Foreign relations of North Korea

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Foreign relations

The foreign relations of North Korea (officially the Democratic People's Republic of Korea) have been shaped by its conflict with South Korea and its historical ties with world Communism. Both the government of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea and the government of the Republic of Korea (South Korea) claim to be the government of the whole of Korea. The Korean War in the 1950s failed to resolve the issue, leaving North Korea locked in a military confrontation with South Korea and the United States Forces Korea across the Demilitarized Zone. At the start of the Cold War, North Korea only had diplomatic recognition by Communist countries. Over the following decades, it established relations with developing countries and joined the Non-Aligned Movement. When the Eastern Bloc collapsed in the years 1989–1991, North Korea made efforts to improve its diplomatic relations with developed capitalist countries. At the same time there were international efforts to resolve the confrontation on the Korean peninsula, especially when the North acquired nuclear weapons.


According to Article 17 of the North Korean Constitution, "independence, peace, and solidarity are the basic ideals of the foreign policy and the principles of external activities of the DPRK". Furthermore, "the state shall establish diplomatic as well as political, economic and cultural relations with all friendly countries, on principles of complete equality, independence, mutual respect, noninterference in each other’s affairs, and mutual benefit".

In addition to the principles stated above, North Korean foreign policy is usually decided upon by the Workers' Party of Korea. Specifically, Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, decides the basic guidelines for the foreign affairs and the principal operating agency enacts the related provisions. Other decisions are often based on a "back tell". Some of the elites from the party, cabinet or army make policy decisions and then obtain ratification from the prime minister and from the minister of foreign relations before the policy is told of to Kim Jong-un. North Korea's foreign policy-related matters are officially apportioned into three parts: governmental diplomacy, multi-party diplomacy and non-governmental diplomacy. Each is under control of different governmental organisations. In conclusion, foreign policy decision making is based on various government bodies' decision.


After 1945, the Soviet Union supplied the economic and military aid that enabled North Korea to mount its invasion of South Korea in 1950. Soviet aid and influence continued at a high level during the Korean war; as mentioned, the Soviet Union was largely responsible for rebuilding North Korea's economy after the cessation of hostilities. In addition, the assistance of Chinese troops during the war and their presence in the country until 1958 gave China some degree of influence in North Korea. In 1961, North Korea concluded formal mutual security treaties with the Soviet Union (inherited by Russia) and China, which have not been formally ended. For most of the Cold War, North Korea followed a policy of equidistance between the Soviet Union and China by accepting favors from both while avoiding a clear preference for either.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, the establishment of diplomatic relations between the United States and China, the Soviet-backed Vietnamese occupation of Cambodia, and the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan created strains between China and the Soviet Union and, in turn, in North Korea's relations with its two major communist allies. North Korea tried to avoid becoming embroiled in the Sino-Soviet split, accepting favours from both the Soviet Union and China and trying to avoid dependence on either. Following Kim Il-sung's 1984 visit to Moscow, there was a dramatic improvement in Soviet-DPRK relations, resulting in renewed deliveries of advanced Soviet weaponry to North Korea and increases in economic aid. In the same era, North Korean abductions of Japanese and South Koreans occurred. Although having since partly resolved the issue by admitting its role in the abductions, it remains a contentious issue with the two countries. In addition, the United States accuses North Korea of producing large numbers of high-quality counterfeit Federal Reserve Notes, namely the Superdollars, although North Korea denies such allegations.

During the 1980s, the pace of North Korea's establishment of new diplomatic relations slowed considerably. The country's links to terrorist acts abroad, its economic weakness relative to South Korea, and the collapse of the Eastern Bloc all contributed to this dynamic over the course of the decade.[1] North Korea's bombing in Rangoon, Burma in 1983[2] and its bombing of Korean Airlines flight No. 858 in 1987 both received heavy criticism from the international community. Burma, which had relations with both North and South Korea, "de-recognized" the DPRK and expelled North Korean officials in response to the attempted assassination of South Korean president Chun Doo-hwan in Rangoon.

South Korea established diplomatic relations with the Soviet Union in 1990 and the People's Republic of China in 1992, which put a serious strain on relations between North Korea and its traditional allies. Moreover, the fall of communism in Eastern Europe in 1989 and the disintegration of the Soviet Union in 1991 had resulted in a significant drop in communist aid to North Korea, resulting in largely decreased relations with Russia. Subsequently South Korea developed the "sunshine policy" towards North Korea, stressing Korean reunification and thus often going to great lengths to avoid majorly criticising the North Korean government. This policy ended in 2009.

In September 1991, North Korea became a member of the United Nations. In July 2000, it began participating in the ASEAN Regional Forum (ARF), as Foreign Minister Paek Nam Sun attended the ARF ministerial meeting in Bangkok 26–27 July. The DPRK also expanded its bilateral diplomatic ties in that year, establishing diplomatic relations with Italy, Australia and the Philippines. The United Kingdom established diplomatic relations with the DPRK on 13 December 2000,[3] as did Canada in February 2001,[4] followed by Germany and New Zealand on 1 March 2001.[5][6] Mexico maintains diplomatic relations with North Korea. Other countries such as France, the United States, and South American nations (except Brazil and Guyana) do not have formal diplomatic ties with North Korea and have not announced any intention to have any. North Korea, however, maintains a delegation, not a diplomatic mission, within the vicinity of Paris.

Since the late 1980s, North Korea's nuclear research programs have become a major topic in international affairs, with western nations such as the United States, Great Britain and Australia, as well as nations such as India, Armenia, South Africa, and now China having taken critical stances towards the concept of a nuclearized North Korea, with the last three discouraging South Korea from going nuclear as well. After allegations from the United States about the continued existence of a military nuclear program, not in compliance with the 1994 Agreed Framework, North Korea declared the existence of uranium enrichment programs during a private meeting with American military officials. Afterwards, North Korea withdrew from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty on 10 January 2003. After insisting on bilateral negotiations with the United States, it agreed to six-party talks between itself, the United States, South Korea, China, Russia and Japan in August 2003. The talks continued for two years until an agreement was reached on 19 September 2005, which was placed under severe strain by the subsequent nuclear test by North Korea in October 2006. Since then, a very similar agreement was reached on 13 February 2007, specifically emphasising normalizing US-North Korean and Japanese-North Korean diplomatic ties but on the condition that North Korea ceases to operate its Yongbyon nuclear research centre.[7][8]

Inter-Korean relations

In August 1971, both North and South Korea agreed to hold talks through their respective Red Cross societies with the aim of reuniting the many Korean families separated following the division of Korea after the Korean War. After a series of secret meetings, both sides announced on July 4, 1972, an agreement to work toward peaceful reunification and an end to the hostile atmosphere prevailing on the peninsula. Officials exchanged visits, and regular communications were established through a North-South coordinating committee and the Red Cross.

However, these initial contacts broke down and ended in 1973 following the announcement by South Korean President Park Chung Hee that the South would seek separate entry into the United Nations and the kidnapping of South Korean opposition leader Kim Dae-Jung in Tokyo by the South Korean intelligence service. There was no other significant contact between North and South Korea until 1984.

Dialogue was renewed on several fronts in September 1984, when South Korea accepted the North's offer to provide relief goods to victims of severe flooding in South Korea. Red Cross talks to address the plight of separated families resumed, as did talks on economic and trade issues and parliamentary-level discussions. However, the North then unilaterally suspended all talks in January 1986, arguing that the annual US-South Korea "Team Spirit" military exercise was inconsistent with dialogue. There was a brief flurry of negotiations on co-hosting the 1988 Seoul Olympics, which ended in failure, and were followed by the 1987 KAL Flight 858 bombing.

In a major initiative in July 1988, South Korean President Roh Tae Woo called for new efforts to promote North-South exchanges, family reunification, inter-Korean trade and contact in international forums. Roh followed up this initiative in a UN General Assembly speech in which South Korea offered to discuss security matters with the North for the first time.

Initial meetings that grew out of Roh's proposals started in September 1989. In September 1990, the first of eight prime minister-level meetings between North Korean and South Korean officials took place in Seoul, beginning an especially fruitful period of dialogue. The prime ministerial talks resulted in two major agreements: the Agreement on Reconciliation, Nonaggression, Exchanges, and Cooperation (the Basic Agreement) and the Declaration on the Denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula (the Joint Declaration).

The Basic Agreement, signed on 13 December 1991, called for reconciliation and nonaggression established four joint commissions. These commissions – on South-North reconciliation, South-North military affairs, South-North economic exchanges and cooperation, and South-North social and cultural exchange – were to work out the specifics for implementing the general terms of the Basic Agreement. Sub-committees to examine specific issues were created and liaison offices established in Panmunjom, but in the fall of 1992 the process came to a halt because of rising tension over the nuclear issue.

The Joint Declaration on denuclearization was initiated on 13 December 1991. It forbade both sides to test, manufacture, produce, receive, possess, store, deploy, or use nuclear weapons and forbade the possession of nuclear reprocessing and uranium enrichment facilities. A procedure for inter-Korean inspection was to be organized and a North-South Joint Nuclear Control Commission (JNCC) was mandated with verification of the denuclearization of the peninsula.

On 30 January 1992, the DPRK also signed a nuclear safeguards agreement with the IAEA, as it had pledged to do in 1985 when acceding to the nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. This safeguards agreement allowed IAEA inspections to begin in June 1992. In March 1992, the JNCC was established in accordance with the Joint Declaration, but subsequent meetings failed to reach agreement on the main issue of establishing a bilateral inspection regime.

As the 1990s progressed, concern over the North's nuclear program became a major issue in North-South relations and between North Korea and the US. The lack of progress on implementation of the joint nuclear declaration's provision for an inter-Korean nuclear inspection regime led to reinstatement of the U.S.-South Korea Team Spirit military exercise for 1993. The situation worsened rapidly when North Korea, in January 1993, refused IAEA access to two suspected nuclear waste sites and then announced in March 1993 its intent to withdraw from the NPT. During the next 2 years, the US held direct talks with the DPRK. that resulted in a series of agreements on nuclear matters (see, under U.S. Policy Toward North Korea, U.S. Efforts on Denuclearization). During former US President Jimmy Carter's 1994 visit, Kim Il Sung agreed to a first-ever North-South summit. The two sides went ahead with plans for a meeting in July but had to shelve it because of Kim's death.

Eleven South Korean diplomats left an industrial park, in the North Korean city of Kaesong, near the border between the two nations their country runs with North Korea on the 27th of the same month, after North Korea demanded their withdrawal. Their departure follows comments made in the week of March 17, 2008, by South Korean Unification Minister Kim Ha-joong. He said it would be hard to expand the industrial complex without North Korean progress on denuclearization.[9]

Nuclear program

5 MWe experimental reactor at Yongbyon Nuclear Scientific Research Center

North Korea's nuclear research program started with Soviet help in the 1960s, on condition that it joined the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). In the 1980s an indigenous nuclear reactor development program started with a small experimental 5 MWe gas cooled reactor in Yongbyon, with a 50 MWe and 200 MWe reactor to follow.

Concerns that North Korea had non-civilian nuclear ambitions were first raised in the late 1980s and almost resulted in their withdrawal from the NPT in 1994. However, the Agreed Framework and the Korean Peninsula Energy Development Organization (KEDO) temporarily resolved this crisis by having the US and several other countries agree that in exchange for dismantling its nuclear program, two light-water reactors (LWRs) would be provided with moves toward normalization of political and economic relations.

This agreement started to break down from 2001 because of slow progress on the KEDO light-water reactor project and U.S. President George W. Bush's offensive Axis of Evil speech. North Korea announced it would withdraw from the NPT in 2003 after the US in late 2002 stopped Agreed Framework interim oil supplies to North Korea and accused North Korea of continuing its nuclear weapons program in contravention of the NPT. North Korea denied these allegations and insisted upon its right to produce nuclear energy for civilian purposes, as allowed by the NPT.

Following this withdrawal, North Korea's neighbours quickly sought a diplomatic solution to an escalating crisis. This resulted in a series of meetings held periodically in Beijing from 2003, known as the six-party talks. Its success has been questioned as US-NK bilateral relations have been the central obstacle for movements towards normalising North Korean relations and maintaining regional peace. North Korea declared on 10 January 2005 that it had nuclear weapons. On 6 October 2006, North Korea then announced it had successfully detonated a nuclear bomb. In response, the US froze North Korean bank assets. This resulted in a 13-month postponement of the six-party talks until mid-December 2006. The third (and last) phase of the fifth round of six-party talks have been held on 8 February 2007, and implementation of the agreement reached at the end of the round has been successful according to the requirements of steps to be taken by all six parties within 30 days, and within 60 days after the agreement, including normalization of US-North Korean and Japanese-Korean diplomatic ties, among other things. At the time of writing, the 30 days commitments have generally been met by all parties, with further talks due to be scheduled.

North Korea threatened to bolster its nuclear deterrent on 3 March 2008 in response to U.S.-South Korean war games, striking a discordant note after a week of cultural diplomacy that raised hopes of warmer ties between Washington and Pyongyang, with the 2008 New York Philharmonic visit to North Korea.[10]

U.S. intelligence officials informed members of the United States Congress on 24 April 2008, of their belief that North Korea was assisting Syria with the construction of a major nuclear facility, which was destroyed by Israeli planes in September 2007. It is less clear whether North Korea had provided or was about to provide essential fuel components to Syria and whether or not North Korea was even helping Syria.

On 11 February 2013 North Korea conducted another nuclear test underground that U.S. and Japanese officials claim recorded a magnitude between 4.9 and 5.2. This was seen as a direct message to the U.S. as it came only days after N. Korea was punished for what the UN called a "Banned missile launch". It was also carried out on the birthday of former leader Kim Jong Il.[11]

Diplomatic style

North Korea is one of the few countries in which the giving of presents still plays a significant role in diplomatic protocol. The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) regularly reports that the country's leader received a floral basket or other gift from a foreign leader or organization.[12] The announcements never mention what sort of gift, but the Kim family has a large collection of cultural and other souvenirs from leaders all over the world, which is partly or entirely on public display. During a 2000 visit to Pyongyang, U.S. Secretary of State Madeleine Albright gave Kim Jong-il a basketball signed by Michael Jordan, as he took an interest in NBA basketball.[13]

North Korea's diplomacy with the United States and Japan is marked by frequent dire warnings through KCNA about its military capabilities. It regards seemingly minor statements and actions in these countries as declarations of renewed war and more than once has responded by threatening to turn South Korea into a "sea of fire" by firing its artillery along the DMZ at Seoul.[14][15]

It has been suggested that the North Korean government is using the international Unification Church, led by North Korean Sun Myung Moon, to make contact with possible supporters and investors in other countries; as the Soviet Union did with Armand Hammer.[16] At various times during the Bush administration, Dong Moon Joo, the president of The Washington Times, undertook unofficial diplomatic missions to North Korea in an effort to improve relations.[17]

Bilateral relations

  Diplomatic relations established
  Diplomatic relations terminated

As of June 2012 North Korea maintains diplomatic relations with 165 states (including the State of Palestine[18]) and the European Union.[19]

Diplomatic relations of North Korea with the following states are terminated: Argentina,[20] Chile,[21] Iraq,[22] and Botswana.[23]

North Korea has not established diplomatic relations with:

  • In North America: El Salvador, Haiti (until 2019), Honduras, Panama, and the United States
  • In South America: Bolivia, Ecuador, Paraguay, Uruguay
  • In Europe: Andorra, Estonia, France, Monaco, the Holy See, and The Sovereign Military Order of Malta[24]
  • In Asia: Bhutan, Israel,[26] Japan,[28] Saudi Arabia and Taiwan. South Korea does not recognize North Korea as a legitimate state.
  • In Oceania: Cook Islands, Kiribati, Marshall Islands, Micronesia, Niue, Palau, Samoa, Solomon Islands, Tonga, Tuvalu
  • Elsewhere: Sahrawi Republic (until 2019)[33]and the rest of the states with limited recognition (until 2019) except Palestine.

European Union

The DPRK had economic interests in the European Union. In March 2002, the Worker's Party trade minister visited certain EU member states, including Belgium, Italy, the United Kingdom, and Sweden, and the country has also been known to send short-term trainees to Europe. Additionally, workshops regarding North Korean economic reform have taken place with EU diplomats and economists as participants.[34] The EU does, however, have concerns regarding alleged human rights violations within North Korea and has hosted talks by defectors. DPRK-EU relations have declined as a result of the DPRK's Long-range missile practice and the Nuclear crisis in 2009.


In a 2003 event dubbed the "Pong Su incident", a North Korean cargo ship allegedly attempting to smuggle heroin into Australia was seized by Australian officials, strengthening Australia's and the United States's suspicions that Pyongyang engages in international drug smuggling. The North Korean government denied any involvement.[35]

Australia and North Korea maintain diplomatic relations.[36]

As of January 2015, neither Australia nor North Korea has a physical diplomatic presence in the other country. Instead, diplomatic relations between the two are handled by non-resident embassies. The Australian embassy in Seoul manages relations with North Korea, whilst the DPRK embassy in Jakarta has been responsible for their relations with Australia, since North Korea closed its embassy in Canberra in January 2008 due to budget constraints. Generally the relations are stressed, due to disputes such as over the North Korean nuclear program. In 2013 the Australian Government agreed to a request from North Korea for permission to re-establish an embassy in Canberra.[37][38]


Brazil did not maintain diplomatic relations with North Korea from the establishment of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea until 2001. Then, in 2001, during the administration of Brazilian President Fernando Henrique Cardoso, diplomatic relations were quietly established between North Korea and Brazil.

Before the establishment of diplomatic relations, Brazil adhered to its policy of not maintaining bilateral relations with Stalinist-like states.

After relations were established in 2001, several years passed before the actual opening of the embassies. North Korea's embassy in Brazil was inaugurated in 2005, and the Brazilian embassy in Pyongyang was only opened when the first Brazilian ambassador to North Korea was appointed in 2009.[39]

The arrival of Ambassador Arnaldo Carrilho, the first Brazilian ambassador to North Korea, was delayed from May to July 2009 due to a North Korean missile test that took the international community by surprise. The Brazilian government made a formal protest against the missile test, and Ambassador Carrilho was briefly retained in China for consultations with the Brazilian government before assuming his post in July 2009.


Bulgaria and North Korea generally have good relations. Diplomatic relations between the countries were established on 29 November 1948, and a bilateral agreement on cultural and scientific cooperation was signed in 1970. Kim Il-sung visited the People's Republic of Bulgaria for the first time in the 1950s, and again in 1975. Bulgarian volunteers provided basic aid to North Korea during the Korean war by providing items such as clothing and foodstuffs.[40] Even after the fall of communism in Eastern Europe, the countries retained active diplomatic relations. The foreign language institute in Pyongyang maintains a Bulgarian language department. In the past, the two countries also cooperated closely in the sphere of sports, and still maintain such cooperation albeit to a lesser degree.

Burkina Faso


Canada and North Korea share very little trade due to the destabilizing element North Korea has caused in the Asia-Pacific region.[citation needed] Diplomatic relations between the two countries were established on February 2001. However, there are no official embassies between the two nations. Canada is represented by the Canadian Ambassador resident in Seoul, and North Korea is represented through their position in the United Nations. On 25 May 2010, Canada suspended diplomatic relations with North Korea.[41]


The two countries are generally perceived to be on friendly terms, however in recent years there has been growing concern in the PRC over issues such as North Korea's nuclear weapons program, their sinking of the ROKS Cheonan and their bombardment of Yeonpyeong. After North Korea conducted its first nuclear test in 2006, the Chinese government stated that they were "resolutely opposed to it" and voted for United Nations sanctions against North Korea.[42]

The Council on Foreign Relations suggests that the PRC's main priority in its bilateral relations with the DPRK is to prevent the collapse of Kim Jong-un's government, concerned that such an event would provoke a surge of North Korean refugees into China. All the while Chinese counterparts are interested in buffering a zone to US-allied South Korea,[43] it also suggests, however, that Chinese-DPRK relations may be soured due to China's concerns about Japan's remilitarization in response to North Korea's military behaviour.[44]


North Korea is ruled by the faction which had its roots in an anti-Japanese Korean nationalist movement based in Manchuria and China. Kim Il-sung participated in this movement, and ensured the triumph of his faction over others within the ruling Korean Workers' Party, which have since been purged. In 1950, the PRC entered the Korean War in support of North Korea.[45] Later after the war, in an attempt to consolidate power, Kim Il-sung crushed the Russian Communist, Chinese Communist and domestic factions to promote the dominance of his guerilla group faction.

In 1961, the two countries signed the Sino-North Korean Mutual Aid and Cooperation Friendship Treaty, whereby Communist China pledged to immediately render military and other assistance by all means to its ally against any outside attack.[46] This treaty was prolonged twice, in 1981 and 2001, with a validity until 2021.

Since 2003, the PRC has been a participant in six-party talks aimed at resolving the issue of North Korea's nuclear weapons program.

In 2006, when the DPRK test-fired a series of ballistic missiles, after PRC officials had advised North Korean authorities not to do so, Chinese authorities publicly rebuked what the west perceives as Mainland China's closest ally,[45] and supported the UN Security Council Resolution 1718, which imposed sanctions on North Korea. At other times however, China has blocked United Nations resolutions threatening sanctions against North Korea.[44]

In January, 2009, PRC President Hu Jintao and North Korean leader Kim Jong-il exchanged greetings and declared 2009 as the “year of China-DPRK friendship”, marking 60 years of diplomatic relations between the two countries.[47]

On 28 November 2010, as part of the United States diplomatic cables leak, WikiLeaks and media partners such as The Guardian published details of communications in which PRC officials referred to North Korea as a "spoiled child" and its nuclear program as "a threat to the whole world's security". Two anonymous PRC officials also allegedly told of growing support in Beijing for Korean reunification under the South's government.[48][49] A 2013 article by Deng Yuwen, deputy editor of Study Times, the journal of the Central Party School of the Communist Party of China also promoted reunification of North and South Korea.[50]


China and North Korea share a 1,416-kilometre long border (890 miles) that corresponds, broadly speaking, to the course of the Yalu and Tumen rivers. The countries have six border crossings between them. In November 2003, China reportedly transferred responsibility for securing its border with North Korea from the police to its army.[51]

In 2006, The PRC built a 20-kilometre (12.4 miles) long fence along its border with North Korea. It is located primarily along areas where the Yalu River dividing the two countries is narrow and the river banks low.[52] Much of China’s trade with the DPRK goes through the port of Dandong on the Yalu River.[53]

In February 1997, the access to foreigners and PRC-nationals travelling as tourists of the Tumen River bridge at Wonjong-Quanhe on the DPRK-PRC border was allowed. This led to a phenomenal increase in cross-border traffic and business within one year; from less than 1,000 passengers in 1996, to over 100,000 in 1997.[54]

In May 2012, The PRC and North Korea signed an agreement on the construction and management of the cross-border bridge between Manpo in the Jagang Province of North Korea and Jian in China.[55]

Border disputes

The DMZ is disputed as both Koreas consider themselves as the legitimate government of the Korean peninsula therefore dispute the border between them.

Economic relations

The PRC permitted the Yanbian Korean Ethnic Group Autonomous Prefecture to conduct border trade with the DPRK in August 1954. A barter contract between China and the DPRK was officially signed the same year. The contract stipulates the following:

  1. The two sides shall barter in the form of mutual exchange of materials.
  2. The two sides shall settle the accounts with Chinese renminbi.
  3. The sites of barter shall be in the PRC's city of Tumen and in the Korean cities of Namyang, Hoeryeong, Khyongwon, and Musan.

In the 1950s, border trade between China and DPRK reached as high as 7.56 million Chinese renminbi. The DPRK received grain, textiles, clothing, paper, soap and other goods in exchange for seafood and apples. In the 1960s, the two sides continued to trade but accounts were settled in Soviet rubles rather than Chinese renminbi. Trade volume from 1960 to 1961 was 2.61 million rubles and from 1962 to 1969, 8.23 million rubles. Then trade was suspended due to the cultural revolution until a new contract was signed in 1982 between China and the DPRK, which set the Swiss franc as the exchange currency. Since then, PRC-DPRK border trade has increased rapidly with the trade between Jilin Province and the DPRK alone reaching 1.03 million Swiss francs (510K USD).[56] Trade volume amounted to 11.99 million Swiss francs (CHF) in 1983 (5.71M USD), CHF 100 million in 1985 (40.70M USD), CHF 160 million in 1988 (109.34M USD), and CHF 150 million (88.2M USD)[56] in 1990. The PRC expanded the former three border trade areas to 13 and the DPRK from 3 to 6 areas.[57] The PRC’s economic assistance to North Korea accounts for about half of all foreign aid given by the PRC. Beijing provides the aid directly to Pyongyang, thereby enabling it to bypass the United Nations.


The PRC is North Korea's largest trade partner, while North Korea ranked 82nd (in 2009) in China's trade partners.[58] China provides about half of all North Korean imports and received a quarter of its exports. The PRC’s major imports from North Korea includes mineral fuels (coal), ores, woven apparel, iron and steel, fish and seafood, and stone. North Korea's imports from Mainland China include mineral fuels and oil, machinery, electrical machinery, vehicles, plastic, and iron and steel. The PRC is a major source for North Korean imports of petroleum. In 2009, exports to the DPRK of mineral fuel oil totaled $327 million and accounted for 17% of all Chinese exports to the DPRK.

Year 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009
Trade turnover (million$) 549.646 565.652 656.021 407.750 370.356 488.053 737.457 738.172 1,023.541 1,376.718 1,581.234 1,699.604 1,973.974 2,787.278 2,680.767


Military relations

During the Korean War from 1950–53, China assisted North Korea, sending as many as 500,000 soldiers to support North Korean forces. In 1975, Kim Il Sung visited Beijing in a failed attempt to solicit support from China for a military invasion of South Korea.[60] On November 23, 2009, PRC Defence Minister Liang Guanglie visited Pyongyang, the first defense chief to visit since 2006.[61]


North Korea has had diplomatic relations with Cuba since 1960 and maintains an embassy in Havana.

Che Guevara, then a Cuban government minister, visited North Korea in 1960, and proclaimed it a model for Cuba to follow.[62] Cuban leader Fidel Castro visited in 1986.

In 2013, a North Korean ship travelling through the Panama Canal was found to be carrying weapons from Cuba, apparently to be repaired in North Korea and returned.


Denmark is represented in North Korea through its embassy in Hanoi, Vietnam.[63]


Relations between the French Republic and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea are officially non-existent. France is one of only two European Union members not to maintain diplomatic relations with North Korea, the other being Estonia.[64] There is no French embassy, nor any other type of French diplomatic representation, in Pyongyang, and no DPRK embassy in Paris, although a North Korean diplomatic office is located in nearby Neuilly sur Seine.[65][66]

France's official position is that it will consider establishing diplomatic relations with DPRK if and when the latter abandons its nuclear weapons program and improves its human rights record.[65]


Relations between the two countries have existed since the Korean War; however, conflicts beginning in the late 1980s have strained relations.


India and North Korea have growing trade and diplomatic relations. India maintains a fully functioning embassy in Pyongyang and North Korea has an embassy in New Delhi. India has said that it wants the "reunification" of Korea.[67] Many North Korean nationals receive training in India including in the fields of IT and science and technology. India has a bilateral trade of around half a billion dollars with North Korea. Also, India is increasingly being asked by the USA to mediate in the Korean peninsula due to its strengthening relations with both North Korea and South Korea.[68]


India voted in favour of Security Council resolutions 82 and 83 relating to the Korean War. However, India did not support resolution 84 for military assistance to South Korea. As a nonaligned country, India refused to fight against North Korea. Instead, India decided to send a medical unit to Korea as a humanitarian gesture. The 60th Indian Field Ambulance Unit, a unit of the Indian Airborne Division, was selected to be dispatched to Korea. The unit consisted of 346-men including 14 doctors.[69]

India was chair of the 9-member UN Commission that monitored elections in undivided Korea in 1947. After the Korean War, India again played an important role as the chair of the Neutral Nations Repatriation Commission in the Korean peninsula. India established consular relations with North Korea in 1962 and in 1973, established full diplomatic relations with it.[70] India's relationship with North Korea has however been affected by North Korean relations with Pakistan especially due to its help for Pakistan's nuclear missile program. In 1999, India impounded a North Korean ship of the Kandla coast that was found to be carrying missile components and blueprints. India's relations with South Korea have far greater economic and technological depth and India's keenness for South Korean investments and technology have in turn affected the North's relations with India. India has consistently voiced its opposition to North Korean nuclear and missile tests.[71][72]

Economic relations


Trade between India and North Korea has seen a large increase in recent years. From an average total trade of barely $100 million in the middle of the 2000s, it shot up to over $1 billion in 2009. The trade is overwhelmingly in India's favour, with its exports accounting for roughly $1 billion while North Korean exports to India were worth $57 million. India's primary export to North Korea is refined petroleum products while silver and auto parts are the main components of its imports from North Korea.[73] India participated in the sixth Pyongyang Autumn International Trade Fair in October 2010 and there have been efforts to bring about greater economic cooperation and trade between the two countries since then.[70][72] In 2010–11, Indo – North Korean trade stood at $572 million with India's exports accounting for $329 million. India has been providing training to North Koreans in areas like science and technology and IT through agreements for such cooperation between Indian and North Korean agencies and through India's International Technological and Economic Cooperation (ITEC) program.[74][75]

Food Aid

In 2002 and 2004, India contributed 2000 tonnes of food grains to help North Korea tide over severe famine-like conditions. In 2010, India responded to North Korea's request for food aid and made available to it 1300 tonnes of pulses and wheat worth $1 million through the UN World Food Program.[76][77]


Iran–North Korea relations are described as being positive by official news agencies of the two countries. Diplomatic relations picked up following the Iranian Revolution in 1979 and the establishment of an Islamic Republic. Iran and North Korea pledge cooperation in educational, scientific, and cultural spheres,[78] as well as cooperating in the nuclear program of Iran.[79] The United States has expressed its opposition towards by North Korea's arms deals with Iran, which started during the 1980s with North Korea acting as a third party in arms deals between the Communist bloc and Iran, as well as selling domestically produced weapons to Iran, and North Korea continues selling missile and nuclear technology to Iran. North Korea and Iran are the remaining two members of what former U.S. President George W. Bush labelled as being so-called "Axis of evil," a designation which has influenced such cross-inspired Iranian-North Korean relations.


Indonesia is one of the very few countries that still maintain cordial relations with North Korea, despite international sanctions and isolation applied upon North Korea concerning its human rights abuses and nuclear missile program. Both nations share a relationship that dates back to the Sukarno and Kim Il-sung era in the 60s. Indonesia has an embassy in Pyongyang, while North Korea has an embassy in Jakarta. Both nations are members of the Non-Aligned Movement.


Israeli-North Korean relations are hostile, and North Korea does not recognise the state of Israel, denouncing it as an 'imperialist satellite'.[80] Since 1988 it recognises the sovereignty of the State of Palestine over the territory held by Israel.


Over the years, North Korea has supplied missile technology to Israel's neighbours, including Iran, Syria, Libya, and Egypt.[81][82][83] Syria, which has a history of confrontations with Israel, has long maintained a relationship with North Korea based on the cooperation between their respective nuclear programs. On 6 September 2007, the Israeli Air Force conducted an airstrike on a target in the Deir ez-Zor region of Syria. According to Media and IAEA investigative reports, 10 North Korean nuclear scientists were killed during the airstrike.[84]

When North Korea opened up for Western tourists in 1986 it excluded citizens of Israel along with those of Japan, the United States, and South Africa.[85] Israel feels insecure because of, and calls for actions against, North Korea's successful nuclear weapons program.[86] It has been suggested that North Korea has sought to model its nuclear weapons program on Israel's, as "a small-state deterrent for a country surrounded by powerful enemies; to display enough activity to make possession of a nuclear device plausible to the outside world, but with no announcement of possession: in short, to appear to arm itself with an ultimate trump card and keep everyone guessing whether and when the weapons might become available."[87]



A legacy of bitterness exists in Japan's relations with North Korea, stemming from Japanese colonial rule over Korea from 1910 to 1945. Currently, North Korea is not recognized by Japan, and neither country has any diplomatic relations. Bilaterally and through the Six-Party Talks, North Korea and Japan continue to discuss issues surrounding the fate of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea in the 1970s and 1980s.

Even despite a cloudy mutual history, North Korea was expected to start seedlings of a positive relationship with Japan as the Democratic Party of Japan has won recent presidential elections. However, then-Prime Minister Hatoyama Yukio maintained the original adverse position towards the DPRK. The Bombardment of Yeonpyeong in November, 2010, and the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan in 2011 have also contributed to the continuing deterioration of the relationship.


North Korea maintains friendly diplomatic ties with Malaysia. In an effort to boost tourism between the two countries, North Korea announced that Malaysians will not require a visa to visit North Korea.[88] North Korea's flag carrier, Air Koryo has regular flights to Kuala Lumpur. Recently, Malaysia's Bernama News Agency reported that the two countries will enhance cooperation in information-related areas.[89] North Korea maintains an embassy in Kuala Lumpur while Malaysia has an embassy in Pyongyang.[90][91]


North Korea–Mongolia relations date back to 1948, when the Mongolian People's Republic recognized Kim Il-sung's Soviet-backed government in the North. Mongolia also provided assistance to the North during the Korean War. The two countries signed their first friendship and cooperation treaty in 1986.[92] Kim Il-sung also paid a visit to the country in 1988.[93] However, relations became strained after the collapse of the Communist regime in Mongolia between 1989 and 1991. The two countries nullified their earlier friendship and cooperation treaty in 1995, and in 1999, North Korea closed its embassy in Ulan Bator during an official visit by Kim Dae-jung, the first-ever such visit by a South Korean president.[92] Mongolia had previously expelled two North Korean diplomats for attempting to pass counterfeit US $100 bills.[94] Subsequently, Mongolia has pursued a policy of engagement.[95]


Laos maintains an embassy in Pyongyang.[96] Laos, like North Korea, is a one-party state.

New Zealand

Relations between the two countries have been almost non-existent since the establishment of the DPRK. During the 1950s, New Zealand fought against North Korea in the Korean War, siding with the United States and South Korea. Since then, New Zealand had little contact with the DPRK until 2001, when the New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister Phil Goff met with his North Korean counterpart Paek Nam-sun. Diplomatic relations were established shortly thereafter. New Zealand has accredited its embassy in South Korea to North Korea as well.[97] New Zealand Ambassador Patrick Rata is in charge of New Zealand's relations with both South and North Korea[98]

New Zealand's Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters made a trip to Pyongyang on November 20, 2007. The Foreign Affairs Minister had talks with President Kim Yong-nam in his two-day visit to the North Korean capital. Areas in which New Zealand is looking to co-operate could include agriculture, training and conservation.


Pakistan maintains warm diplomatic and trade relations with North Korea, while still maintaining friendly relations with South Korea. The start of relations between the two countries emerged sometime in the 1970s during the rule of Pakistani Prime Minister Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. North Korea maintains an embassy in Islamabad. Relations between the two countries are reported to be have been strong in the past and North Korea has supplied missile technology to Pakistan. Allegations have been made against Pakistan in supporting Pyongyang in developing nuclear warheads but were reportedly declined by Pakistan. Pakistan supports reunification of Korea. However, it was among the states to disagree with the 2006 nuclear tests carried out by North Korea.


In 2000, the Philippines and North Korea finally established diplomatic relations after more than 20 years of negotiations. Trade between the two countries remains almost non-existent as a trade embargo remains in place.

In 2007, the agreement was boosted further and was signed by Philippine Foreign Secretary Alberto Romulo and North Korean Foreign Minister Pak Ui Chun during the Association of South-east Asian Nations (ASEAN) meeting in Manila.[99]

The Philippines has a representative in Pyongyang through an embassy in Beijing. North Korea has a representative through its embassy in Bangkok.


Poland maintains diplomatic and limited trading (fishing) relations with Democratic People's Republic of Korea. Relations between the two countries began on 16 October 1948. Poland maintains an embassy in Pyongyang.


Portugal and North Korea have a good relationship, in part due to the former Portuguese colony of Macau. One of Kim Jong-il's sons, in addition to his North Korean citizenship, holds Portuguese citizenship from the time he lived in Macau. Kim Yong Nam has made statements affirming the good relationship between the two countries, such as the condolences he gave then-President Jorge Sampaio when Francisco da Costa Gomes died,[100] and the congratulations he extended to President Cavaco Silva after he won the Portuguese elections.[101]


Russia–North Korea relations are determined by Russia’s strategic interests in Korea and the goal of preserving peace and stability in the Korean peninsula. Russia’s official position, and by extension its stance on settlement of the North Korean nuclear crisis, is that it stands firmly behind a peaceful resolution of the crisis, achieved through diplomacy and negotiation.[citation needed]


Serbia maintains friendly relations with North Korea. Relations between the two countries started in 1948 under the Yugoslav President Josip Broz Tito. Relations between the two countries are still strong in both political and military terms. The North Korean embassy to Serbia is accredited to Sofia, Bulgaria.


Singapore and North Korea have extremely good relations. A great deal of Singaporean companies have opened up businesses in Pyongyang, the country's capital and Singapore is also North Korea's 4th biggest trade partner (after Russia, China and Malaysia). Singaporeans can visit North Korea without a visa and North Koreans can also visit Singapore visa free for up to 30 days. North Korea maintains an embassy in Singapore. Singapore does not maintain an Embassy in North Korea.[102]


Slovenia and North Korea have a strong relationship. Like Serbia, relations between Slovenia and North Korea began in 1948, during the time of Yugoslavia. Relations between the two countries are generally strong. The North Korean embassy to Slovenia is accredited to Vienna, Austria.


Diplomatic relations between North Korea and Somalia were formally established on 13 April 1967. This late-1950s to 1960s period was when North Korea had first declared autonomous diplomacy.[103]

South Korea

According to a 2013 BBC World Service Poll, 4% of South Koreans view North Korea's influence positively, with 90% expressing a negative view. However a 2014 government funded survey found only 13% of the South Koreans viewed the North Korea as hostile, and 58% believed North Korea was a country.[104]

South Sudan

North Korea and South Sudan established diplomatic relations in November 2011, shortly after South Sudan gained independence from Sudan.[105]


In January 2014, North Korea opened an embassy in Madrid.[106]

Alejandro Cao de Benos de Les y Pérez, a Spanish national, is the president of the Korean Friendship Association (KFA), also based in Spain. The role of this organization is to attempt to open up North Korea to the rest of the world.


Sweden was the first Western country to open an embassy in North Korea. The embassy is located in Pyongyang, and "Sweden serves as the interim consular protecting power for American, Finnish, Australian and Canadian interests in North Korea."[107]

The Swedish-Korean Association has friendly ties with the North Korean government, and works to promote solidarity with and support for it.


North Korea built a nuclear reactor in Syria based on the design of its own reactor at Yongbyon, and North Korean officials traveled regularly to the site. The Syrian reactor was destroyed by Israel in an airstrike in 2007.[108] The United States signed the Iran North Korea Syria Nonproliferation Act in 2000.


Turkey did not have any diplomatic relations with North Korea before 2001. In a statement made in 2001 in Beijing (China) by the Turkish and North Korean embassies, Turkey officially recognized North Korea and on 15 January 2001 both countries established diplomatic relations.[109] Turkey is represented in North Korea through its embassy in Beijing (China). North Korea is represented in Turkey through its embassy in Sofia (Bulgaria).

United Kingdom

The North Korean Embassy in London. It is situated in a suburban area of Ealing, West London.

Following initial progress in North Korea–South Korea relations, North Korea and the United Kingdom established diplomatic relations on 12 December 2000, opening resident embassies in London and Pyongyang. The United Kingdom provides English language and human rights training to DPRK officials, urging the North Korean government to allow a visit by the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights, and it oversees bilateral humanitarian projects in North Korea.[110][111]

To mark the tenth anniversary of North Korea's relations with the United Kingdom, an edited version of the 2002 film Bend It Like Beckham was broadcast on North Korean state television on 26 December 2010. The British Ambassador to South Korea, Martin Uden, posted on Twitter that it was the "1st ever Western-made film to air on TV" in North Korea.[112]

Good relations between the two nations have been in existence as far back as 1966 when the North Korean football team played in the 1966 World Cup in England. The North Korean team became the adopted team of Middlesbrough which was where they played their group games during the competition. Middlesbrough fans went on to support the North Korean team in the next round of the tournament, with many travelling to Liverpool to watch the team against Portugal. In 2002, members of the North Korean team returned to Middlesbrough for an official visit.[113]

United States

Vice Marshal Jo Myong-rok meets Bill Clinton at the White House, October 2000

North Korea–United States relations developed primarily during the Korean War, but in recent years have been largely defined by North Korea's four tests of nuclear weapons, its development of long-range missiles capable of striking targets thousands of miles away, and its ongoing threats to strike the United States[114] and South Korea with nuclear weapons and conventional forces.[115][116]

Although hostility between the two countries has its roots in Cold War politics, earlier conflicts between the United States and Korea included the 19th-century General Sherman Incident, when Korean forces attacked a U.S. gunboat sent to negotiate a trade treaty and killed its crew, after it defied instructions from Korean officials. A U.S. retribution attack followed, called the Sinmiyangyo in Korean.


Students from North Vietnam began going to North Korea to study as early as the 1960s, even before the formal establishment of Korean-language education in their country.[117] The former Vietnamese ambassador to South Korea is a graduate of North Korea's Kim Il-sung University.[118] The son of a former staff member in the Vietnamese embassy in Pyongyang, who also attended Kim Il-sung University between 1998 and 2002, gave an interview in 2004 with South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo about the experiences he had while living there.[119]

Both North and South Korea lent material and manpower support to their respective ideological allies during the Vietnam War, though the number of South Korean troops on the ground was larger.[120][121] As a result of a decision of the Korean Workers' Party in October 1966, in early 1967 North Korea sent a fighter squadron to North Vietnam to back up the North Vietnamese 921st and 923rd fighter squadrons defending Hanoi. They stayed through 1968; 200 pilots were reported to have served.[121] In addition, at least two anti-aircraft artillery regiments were sent as well. North Korea also sent weapons, ammunition and two million sets of uniforms to their comrades in North Vietnam.[122] Kim Il-sung is reported to have told his pilots to "fight in the war as if the Vietnamese sky were their own".[123][124][125]


In October 1980, Kim Il-sung and Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe signed an agreement for an exchange of soldiers. Following this agreement, 106 North Korean soldiers arrived in Zimbabwe to train a brigade of soldiers that became known as the Fifth Brigade.

International organizations

North Korea is a member of the following international organizations:[126]

See also


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