Securing Italian Money (pp. 29-31)

Still reeling from the betrayal of the Soviet Union and China, more bad news was to visit the DPRK. In November 1992, the Italian government proposed discussing the establishment of bilateral relations between the two countries and said it would send the Italian Ambassador to China Oliver Rossi and Foreign Ministry director Mario Filippo Pini to Pyongyang.

South Korea had established diplomatic relations with the DPRK’s main allies, the Soviet Union and China, whereas North Korea had failed to do so with the United States, Japan and other established Western nations. So, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs sent reports to Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il.

“The establishment of diplomatic relations between the ROK and China will provide a new impetus for future DPRK foreign relations. Despite us spending a lot of time declaring to the international community our own independent foreign policy, we were often seen as little more than a satellite state of the Soviet Union and China. Now, however, the Soviet Union has collapsed and China has entered into relations with South Korea. Thus, we now have an opportunity to demonstrate just how independent our country truly is. Moreover, our external status will likely be strengthened by these developments in the future. From now, we will have greater opportunities with the United States and it will also speed up development in our relations with European, Asia, and Latin American countries.”

Kim Il-sung and Kim Jung-il both agreed to push ahead with this plan. Prior to this in September 1992, Carlo Baeri ‘Chairman of the Italian Foreign Financial Exchange Group’ (translator’s note: the name of this organization has yet to be verified) had been invited to discuss the possibility of offering a loan of $100 million dollars. With the fall of the Soviet Union, 11 new countries had gained independence in the same year and there was much concentration on establishing diplomatic relations with them all. These would help in diplomatic terms following the disappearance of the Soviet Union, but they provided little in terms of practical or tangible support.

Image result for ri ki yong
Portrait of North Korean author Ri Ki-yong

It was against this particular backdrop that the Italian government had offered to send an ambassador to Pyongyang. Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il were naturally both ecstatic to hear such news. In Italy, Lee Jong-hyuk served as the North Korean delegate to the UN’s Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), and he was considered by many to be rather astute in the world of business and finance. Lee Jong-hyuk is the son of North Korean writer and current vice chairman of the North Korean Asia-Pacific Peace Committee, Ri Ki-yong. He would often appear in meetings with the South.

Italy’s parliament has traditionally been dominated by both socialist and communist parties. Following the end of the Cold War, the Italian Parliament had frequently called on the administration to establish diplomatic relations with the DPRK. It was now time for the government to decide whether or not it would issue the $100 million dollar loan to the DPRK. The outcome of this would no doubt change the diplomatic atmosphere between the two countries. Full of expectation, Kim Il-sung said the following:

“Italy is a Western European country that acts with a great deal of autonomy. Them sending an ambassador here will not be a case of them just coming to test the waters and nothing else. With the admission of both the ROK and the DPRK to the United Nations, the era of the Two Koreas has well and truly begun. Italy’s position seems to be that of remaining equidistant between both South Korea and North Korea and developing both relationships simultaneously. If we act correctly now, we’ll likely be able to establish diplomatic relations with Italy. I’ll even meet the Italian ambassador myself.”

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The Wangjaesan Light Music Band takes it name from Mount Wangjae – where Kim Il-sung reportedly held anti-Japanese guerrilla meetings

Kim Jong-il, also clearly excited by what was unfolding, provided us with the following instructions:

“The Supreme Leader has very high hopes for his meeting with the Italian ambassador and his associates. The Party is to provide all the necessary support as we work towards establishing diplomatic relations with Italy. If we need to wine and dine this group of people to secure the $100 million dollar loan, then so be it. Place them all in the top floors of the Koryo Hotel and provide with them nothing but the best in terms of cars and food. Don’t just provide them with performances at the Mansudae Art Theatre. Instead, the First Vice Foreign Minister Kang Sok-ju will personally take them to the WKP’s Magnolia House for a meeting there. I will arrange performances by the Pochonbo Electronic Ensemble and Wangjaesan Light Music Band.

The question that the Italian ambassador and his colleagues were most curious about was what type of economic relationship they would be able to forge with us. So, I will inform Room 39 (Department of Finance and Accounting) and have them taken to the Muncheon Smeltery in Gangwondo so that they can see our gold storage. When they see this, their mouths will surely fall open and their dollars will be ours. When you take them there, use the helicopter. Taking the car will only present problems in showing them the reality of our situation and the roads, and we can’t allow that to happen.”

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