SEOUL (Reuters) - North Korea launched a ferry service to the Russian city of Vladivostok on Wednesday to develop links and boost economic cooperation, the North’s state media said, as it faces increasing isolation over its weapons development.
Experts have said North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, may be hoping closer ties with Russia would help if China, the North’s main economic benefactor, steps up sanctions against it over its weapons programs, in defiance of U.N. resolutions.
Russian President Vladimir Putin said on Monday that while Moscow was opposed to any new countries acquiring nuclear weapons, the world should talk to North Korea rather than threaten it.
The ferry, the Mangyongbong, set sail from the North Korean port of Rajin, the North’s KCNA news agency said.
“Mangyongbong’s operation as the Rajin-Vladivostok international tourist liner will make a positive contribution to developing marine transport and economic cooperation and tourism between the two countries,” it added.
The Russian consul general based in the nearby city of Chongjin saw the ferry off, it said.
The Mangyongbong was in service between the North and Japan before Japan suspended its operations in 2006 after a North Korean missile test.
North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Sunday that landed in the sea near Russia.
The United States has been discussing possible new U.N. sanctions with China, which disapproves of the North’s development of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles to deliver them.
Russia, especially the port of Vladivostok, is home to one of the largest overseas communities of North Koreans in the world, and they send home many thousands of dollars in much-needed hard currency each month.
The ferry service is expected to carry up to 200 passengers and 1,000 tonnes of cargo six times a month between North Korea and Vladivostok.
Reporting by Jack Kim; Editing by Robert Birsel