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North Korea in the World

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The Democratic People`s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is the most isolated nation on earth. North Korea has only formal diplomatic ties with 24 countries in the World. Therefore, there are a very small number of nations which carries on formal foreign relations with Kim`s regime. Hence, North Korea is a hermit kingdom among the concert of nations. This country has a very poor human rights record and sometimes threatens Western nations on various issues. For that reason, the DPRK is seen by several countries as an unfriendly nation. North Korea is not positively perceived on the World stage and the DPRK does very little to improve its international image. Besides, this nation is accused by some observers of using its embassies to conduct illegal activities. Therefore, the country does not try to show a positive image worldwide through its diplomatic channels. Nevertheless, this has changed a little since the DPRK re-opened diplomatic channels with South Korea and the United States in 2018.

To begin with, the DPRK`s foreign policy is based on history, nationalism, and ideology. Therefore, the historical division between the north and south affects the DPRK foreign policy. The DPRK always has had diplomatic relations with the communist nations. For instance, the Soviet Union strongly supported the Kim`s regime until the end of the USSR. The Soviet Union helped to rebuild the DPRK after the Korean War. Besides, the USSR brought material and medical support to the Korean communist forces during the war. The USSR was not the only communist country to have strong ties with the DPRK. For that reason, North Korea has been having bilateral relations with Cuba since the 1960s. The common communist ideals united both nations which strengthened their bilateral relations. Raul Castro considers North Korea and Cuba as being identical nations. The DRPK and Cuba established a barter trade system in 2016. Consequently, both nations work together to help each other. Communist nations have always got along very well on the World stage. These nations support each other and they work together for their mutual benefits.

For that reason, most of North Korea`s friends are socialist countries which are ruled by socialist single party governments. As well, the Chinese Foreign Affairs Ministry published on its own department website how North Korean Leader views bilateral relations between the DPRK and China: ¨Kim Jong Un expressed that the DPRK-China friendship is especially precious. He would like to join hands with Comrade General Secretary to follow the noble will of leaders of the elder generations and to carry on and develop the DPRK Chinese friendship that remains unchanged despite winds and rains, and elevate it to new highs under new circumstances.¨ This shows that both nations have traditionally cooperate together despite several difficulties encountered by this relationship. The Democratic People`s Republic of China is North Korea`s most powerful friend which is also the main supplier of Kim`s regime. Half of North Korean imports come from China. Further, a quarter of DPRK exports go to China which makes Koreans highly relying on China.

In addition, non-communist countries do not have a positive view of Korean Workers` Party and North Korea. Still, only 25 nations have embassies in Pyongyang. Besides, there are 47 North Korean diplomatic missions all over the World. The hermit state talks to other nations through official diplomatic channels like most countries do. Nonetheless, some argue that North Korea uses its embassies to conduct illegal activities. For instance, A German spy claims that the DPRK uses its embassy in Berlin to procure different military hardware for its missile program. There have been several DPRK government officials who have been arrested and charged with drug smuggling in several countries. Besides, North Korea counterfeits some currencies which generates between 15 and 30 million in profit every year. Therefore, the DPRK might not use its diplomatic offices just in favour of improving its national reputation.

Moreover, North Korea has opened embassies in capitalist countries such as the United Kingdom of Britain and Northern Ireland. The U.K. has likewise an embassy in Pyongyang. Thus, both nations have established diplomatic relations in 2000 by opening embassies in both countries. This is surprising that these nations maintain opened diplomatic channels because the U.K. strongly supported the United States during the Korean War. Nowadays, the U.K. gives English courses to DPRK officials. As well, the U.K. gives human rights classes to Korean government workers. However, the U.K. does not support the North Korean nuclear program. Nevertheless, British and North Korean diplomatic relation means that this is possible for Western nations to keep opened diplomatic channels in difficult times rather than closing these channels.

In addition, North Korea has an uneasy relationship with its neighbouring South Korea. Nevertheless, South Korea sometimes tries to get along with North Korea. For instance, the Republic of Korea (South Korea) implemented the Sunshine Policy between 1998 and 2008. The official name of this government policy was the Comprehensive Engagement Policy towards North Korea. The purpose of this new South Korean initiative was to loosen containment on North Korean, to embrace North Korea, and to make the DPRK denuclearizing itself. Consequently, this international cooperation policy aimed at improving government relations between the DPRK and the ROK. Therefore, the Kim Dae Jung administration wanted to restore communication with North Korea. Kim Dae Jung is a Nobel Prize recipient by virtue of his North Korean foreign policy based on reconciliation and cooperation. This strategy was unusual at the time because most scholars and South Koreans thought that the Republic of Korea needed to carry on tougher measures towards North Korea. This policy had some positive effects on South Korean economy. This policy made both Koreas enjoy mutual economic and cultural cooperation. Nevertheless, there had been several major armed provocations from North Korea during these 10 years of the policy. Even though, there has never been any official cancellation of the policy, South Korea has taken a tougher stance against North Korea. Hence, the South Korean Sunshine Policy is no longer in force to deal with North Korea. Nevertheless, both nations participated in a summit in order to try to solve the 2017-2018 North Korean nuclear crises. At any rate, there is some hope that both nations might find common ground on different issues because they are talking to each other.

Furthermore, North Korea has started listening to concerns expressed by foreign nations about their nuclear program. As a result, DPRK Leader Kim Jong Un suspended its nuclear and missiles tests in early April 2018. Kim intends to meet President Trump in early June in order to discuss the North Korean nuclear program. Peter Ward, a North Korea researcher at Seoul National University, thinks that the DPRK is serious about achieving peace with other countries. Though, the DPRK tends to simply serve its own interests and it might participate in this summit to simply get what it wants by giving very little to others. The nuclear tests made by the DPRK were used as some leverage to negotiate with other nations. For instance, the DPRK might have done these tests to get rid of international economic sanctions imposed on them. Pyongyang has some leverage to negotiate with the U.S and South Korea.

Finally, the DPRK has two different kinds of foreign policy which is one with the Socialist World and one with the Western World. As a result, North Korea has a mutual cooperative relationship with socialist nations such as: Cuba and China. On the other hand, North Korea does not have very good diplomatic relationship with capitalistic nations. Some Western countries accuse the rogue state of conducting illegal activities and using labour camps to punish its people. Also, the socialist nation often threatens to wage war against the United States and South Korea. For that reason, these nations have imposed tough economic sanctions on the DPRK. Consequently, this socialist nation would like that these sanctions be lifted. Nowadays, the DPRK tries to get along well with the U.S. President in order to improve its economic conditions. Western observers hope that the DPRK will normalize its relationship with the Republic of Korea and the United States. Still, several nations want that North Korea starts its denuclearization, improves its human rights record, democratizes its government and institutions, etc. Therefore, the challenge is huge for North Korea to improve its image on the global stage. Still, Kim Jong Il expects that his openness convinces the Western World to lift economic sanctions on his country.


June 9, 2018


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Vallee, Yannick B.
par Yannick B. Vallee

Yannick B. Vallée est un politicologue, diplômé de l’Université Bishop's (Lennoxville, Québec, Canada), détenteur du baccalauréat en science politique. De plus, il a un diplôme d’études collégiales en Techniques administrative (option : marketing) de Champlain St. Lawrence College, au Québec. Il s’intéresse... (Lire la suite)

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