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N. Korea striving for closer ties with ASEAN to weaken sanctions: gov't

North Korea is stepping up efforts to forge closer ties with members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) in a bid to weaken sanctions imposed against it by the international community, the government said Thursday.

The unification ministry said Pyongyang has stepped up efforts this year to strengthen bonds with non-aligned nations and members of ASEAN, as well as to mend fences with neighbors such as China.

Traditionally, the North has maintained cordial ties with Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia, which all share similar political systems, and more recently it has increased cooperation with Indonesia. There have been 15 senior-level exchanges between North Korea and ASEAN countries in 2013 alone.

"The move can be seen as an effort aimed at thwarting concerted efforts to penalize the North (for developing weapons of mass destruction)," said a official who wanted to remain anonymous.

The United Nations Security Council (UNSC) slapped wide-reaching sanctions on the North for conducting its third nuclear test on Feb. 12, despite warnings from the global community.

He said that diplomatic efforts have become more pronounced in the second year of Kim Jong-un's hold on power. He pointed out that last year, the communist country was more focused on internal affairs directly linked to solidifying the young leader's power base.

Kim, who is said to be around 30, took control of the country following the sudden death of his father Kim Jong-il in late 2011.

The source, however, speculated that while Pyongyang wants to weaken the global sanctions brought against regime, the move is likely to fail.

"ASEAN countries are pragmatic and while open to expanding diplomatic and economic exchanges with the North, they have consistently maintained the stance that Pyongyang should honor its denuclearization promises and respect resolutions passed by the UNSC," he said. The insider said all countries have moreover called on the North to push for change.

ASEAN defense ministers in August formally called on the North to adhere to calls by the UN to desist from making nuclear weapons.

Besides ASEAN, the ministry said the North has been hard at work trying to win the backing of its traditional supporters China and Russia, and expand ties with African and Latin American countries.

The official, meanwhile, said that despite a media report hinting that the North Korean leader will visit China in December, Seoul does not think that such a development will occur.

"In our view based on examination of overall conditions and the timing, that there is no real evidence indicating a trip will take place as reported," he said. (Yonhap News)