DPRK Diplomatic Relations
North Korea’s foreign policy has been marked by several distinct stages since the establishment of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea in 1948. In its earliest years, North Korea maintained diplomatic ties exclusively with Eastern bloc countries, along with the People’s Republic of China and Vietnamese revolutionaries. By the 1960s and 1970s, North Korea began reaching out to Third World countries emerging from colonialism, competing with South Korea for diplomatic recognition and the legitimacy it entails.[ii] After the collapse of the USSR and the beginning of China’s economic reforms, the DPRK, seeking foreign investment and security, tried to improve relations with capitalist countries including the U.S., Japan, and Europe.[iii]
North Korea’s state ideology of Juche emphasizes self-reliance and independence in foreign affairs, but it has not meant diplomatic or economic isolation. Rather, the DPRK has historically displayed flexibility in its approach to foreign policy, while consistently seeking to preserve its political system and diplomatic autonomy. North Korea has developed different policies regarding diplomatic outreach in the context of the changing geopolitical environment, and has established relations with a large number of countries, with the notable exceptions of Japan and the United States (inter-Korean relations being a somewhat separate issue).
North Korea currently has diplomatic relations with 164 countries, as well as the EU. North Korea has embassies in forty-two of these countries, while twenty-five countries have embassies in Pyongyang (China and Russia also have consulates in the northeastern city of Chongjin). The majority of countries that have diplomatic relations with the DPRK base diplomatic staff handling North Korea at their embassies in Beijing; some are also based at embassies in Seoul.
Countries with diplomatic relations with North Korea (as of June 2012)[iv]
|Region (# countries)||(Countries hosting a DPRK embassy are in italics; countries with an embassy in Pyongyang are in bold.)|
|Asia/Pacific (31)||Afghanistan, Australia, Bangladesh, Brunei, Cambodia, China, East Timor, Fiji, India, Indonesia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Laos, Malaysia, Maldives, Mongolia, Myanmar, Nauru, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Philippines, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Tajikistan, Thailand, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Vanuatu, Vietnam|
|Americas (24)||Antigua and Barbuda, Bahamas, Barbados, Belize, Brazil, Canada, Colombia, Costa Rica, Cuba, Dominica, Dominican Republic, Grenada, Guatemala, Guyana, Jamaica, Mexico, Nicaragua, Peru, St. Kitts and Nevis, St. Lucia, St. Vincent, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, Venezuela|
|Europe (45)||Albania, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Belgium, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, Czech Republic, Denmark, European Union, Finland, Georgia, Greece, Germany, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, San Marino, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine, United Kingdom|
|Middle East/North Africa (18)||Algeria, Bahrain, Egypt, Iran, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine,[v] Qatar, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, Yemen|
|Africa (47)||Angola, Benin, Botswana, Burkina Faso, Burundi, Cameroon, Cape Verde, Central African Republic, Chad, Comoros, Congo Republic, D.R. Congo, Cote d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Gabon, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Kenya, Lesotho, Liberia, Madagascar, Malawi, Mali, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, São Tomé and Principe, Senegal, Seychelles, Sierra Leone, Somalia, South Africa, South Sudan, Swaziland, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, Zambia, Zimbabwe|
From 1948 to 1950s: Limited Diplomatic Relationships
Upon their establishment as independent states in 1948, both the Republic of Korea and Democratic People’s Republic of Korea claimed to be the sole legitimate representative of the Korean Peninsula. The ROK was recognized by the UN and several Western states after declaring independence in 1948, while the DPRK initially established relations with fellow Marxist states. The Soviet Union was intimately involved in the establishment and early years of the DPRK, while the Chinese intervention in the Korean War led to a relationship that Mao Zedong declared to be “as close as lips and teeth.” After the end of the Korean War in 1953, North Korea focused on internal reconstruction rather than foreign affairs, not establishing further diplomatic relations until 1958.[vi]
|Central African Republic||9/5/1969|
Late-1950s through 1960s: Declaring Autonomous Diplomacy
Two factors affected the DPRK’s approach to foreign policy in the decades after the Korean War: the split between the Soviet Union and China, and the emergence of post-colonial states and the Non-Aligned Movement.
After Stalin’s death, as the Soviet Union promoted peaceful coexistence with the United States under Nikita Khrushchev, the DPRK at first joined China in denouncing Soviet “revisionism.” However, after the launch of the Cultural Revolution in China, North Korea moved toward a closer relationship with the Soviet Union.[vii] The DPRK continued a policy of balancing their relationship with the two communist powers throughout the Cold War, often attempting to play one against the other.
Although neither North nor South Korea was invited to the 1955 Bandung Conference, which established the foundation for the Non-Aligned Movement, the DPRK responded positively to burgeoning third-world solidarity. At a Korean Workers’ Party meeting in April 1956, Kim Il Sung announced his intention to develop diplomatic relations with countries of different social systems.[viii] North Korean relations with a non-Marxist regime were first established with the Algerian National Liberation Front (FLN) in 1958, as the FLN was in the midst of its war against French rule. In the 1960s, as many newly independent nations joined the UN, the DPRK expanded its diplomatic relations, particularly in Africa. By the late 1960s, South Korea ended its policy of maintaining diplomatic ties only with countries that did not recognize the North, allowing the scope of diplomatic outreach for both Koreas to expand.[ix]
1970s: Expanded Diplomatic Outreach
As Third World countries increased their influence in the arena of world politics and Soviet–American détente created new opportunities for countries in both blocs, North Korea declared 1972 a year of diplomacy.[x] The DPRK used a two-part diplomatic strategy: first, it continued reaching out to third world countries where China had already established economic and diplomatic influence, particularly in Africa.[xi] Second, North Korea established diplomatic relations with some European countries in an effort to develop its economy and expand its foreign ties. Unlike China, which established new ties across a broad political spectrum, North Korea concentrated its diplomatic efforts on European countries with strong left-wing parties such as Portugal and Denmark, and on neutral countries such as Austria and Switzerland.[xii]
During this period, North Korea also joined some international organizations such as the World Health Organization. In 1975, the DPRK was admitted to the Non-Aligned Movement, to the exclusion of South Korea. Additionally, North Korea established observer missions to the United Nations, although it rejected South Korean proposals to jointly enter the UN as full members.[xiii]
As a result of its diplomatic activity, North Korea established relations with 63 countries in a decade. However, by the late 1970s, momentum lagged, caused by tense inter-Korean relations, the North’s default on foreign loans, and reports of drug smuggling by its diplomats (in 1976-77, North Korean diplomats were accused of smuggling drugs into countries as far-ranging as Norway, Venezuela, and India.)[xiv] Additionally, North Korea’s support for revolutionary groups, and rightward shifts in the internal politics of foreign governments, led to several countries temporarily or permanently suspending their relationships with the DPRK during this period.[xv]
|Senegal||9/8/1972||Libya||1/23/1974||São Tomé and Principe||8/9/1975|
|Burkina Faso||10/11/1972||Gabon||1/29/1974||Cape Verde||8/18/1975|
|Gambia||3/2/1973||Jordan||7/5/1974||Papua New Guinea||6/1/1976|
|Trinidad and Tobago||1/22/1986|
1980s: Terrorism and the Collapse of the Eastern Bloc
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.[xvi]
North Korea’s terrorist act in Burma in 1983[xvii] and its bombing of Korean Airlines flight 858 in 1987[xviii] were both strongly criticized international. 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.[xix]
By the end of the decade, North Korea’s foreign policy hit a nadir as the Eastern Bloc began to collapse. In 1988, in the run-up to the Seoul Olympics, South Korea announced a new foreign policy of Nordpolitick, reaching out to North Korea’s traditional communist allies. By 1989, this policy had begun to bear fruit, as Seoul established relations with Eastern Europeans countries in return for economic assistance, ending the Eastern Bloc policy of exclusively recognizing Pyongyang. The prospect of access to South Korean trade and capital would soon lead to the ROK’s recognition by the Soviet Union and China, as well.[xx]
|St. Vincent and the Grenadines||8/16/1990|
|Antigua & Barbuda||11/27/1990|
|St. Kitts and Nevis||12/13/1991|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||1/19/1996|
1990s: Former Soviet Bloc – and outreach with Japan and the U.S.
The Soviet and Chinese recognition of the ROK in 1990 and 1992, respectively, was a major diplomatic blow to North Korea. The shift in the dynamics of international politics at the end of the Cold War led Pyongyang to drop its longstanding opposition to joining the UN jointly with Seoul, with both Koreas joining the global body in 1991. While North Korea quickly established relations with most of the successor states of the Soviet Union and Yugoslavia, its nuclear program and political system largely precluded broader diplomatic recognition during this period. The collapse of the Soviet bloc also resulted in major cuts in economic aid to the DPRK, causing economic hardship and food shortages.
With a severely reduced budget, North Korea closed thirty percent of its embassies between 1998 and 2001: seven in Africa, six in Europe, two in Middle East, two in Latin America, and one in Asia.[xxi] During this decade, North Korea sought security guarantees and economic benefits by turning its diplomatic efforts to its two major foes: the United States, technically still an adversary since the Korean War; and Japan, which had ruled Korea from 1910 to 1945. Amid major tension over its nuclear program, North Korea signed the Agreed Framework with the United States in 1994, outlining steps to freeze its nuclear program and eventually dismantle existing facilities in exchange for the provision of proliferation-resistant light-water reactors, and pledging the two countries to "move toward full normalization of political and economic relations," among other commitments. However, although the U.S. and the DPRK did improve relations during this era, no irreversible progress was made toward either denuclearization or normalization.
North Korea also began talks with Japan to normalize relations and receive reparations for the colonial era. The two countries met eight times between 1991 and 1992 and Japanese representatives of the LDP visited North Korea in March of 1998. However, no concrete actions were taken.
2000s: The European Union and Six-Party Talks
In 2001, Kim Jong Il declared that North Korea was ready to talk with any capitalist countries if they respected the North’s sovereignty. He also stated that he was ready to improve U.S.-DPRK relations.[xxii] With its nuclear activities apparently frozen, its missile program under a moratorium, and relations with South Korea improving after the first Inter-Korean Summit in 2000, North Korea successfully concluded diplomatic ties with many European countries and opened embassies in Italy, Germany, South Africa and the United Kingdom in the early 2000s.[xxiii] North Korea also hosted Russian President Vladimir Putin for a summit in July 2000 – the first time a Russian or Soviet leader had visited Pyongyang – and hosted Japanese Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi in 2002, another first.
However, after the Agreed Framework between the United States and North Korea broke down in late 2002, the DPRK’s international outreach stalled. As the Six-Party Talks framework to resolve the nuclear issue was underway, the U.S. and North Korea had a roller-coaster relationship, with periods of limited diplomatic progress. The DPRK’s relationship with Japan worsened during this period: Kim Jong-il’s 2002 acknowledgement that the DPRK had abducted Japanese citizens resulted in a backlash and Japanese reluctance to address other issues until the matter had been fully resolved.
Despite the slowdown in opening new diplomatic relationships during this period, the DPRK did establish ties with several countries, and notably re-established its relationship with Myanmar in 2007. In September 2009, France dispatched Jack Lang to Pyongyang as a “Special Envoy to North Korea.” Following the visit France expressed its interest in forging cultural links with North Korea, but not full diplomatic ties.[xxiv]
Two major incidents in 2010 – the sinking of the ROK warship Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyoeng island – strained some of North Korean’s diplomatic relations, but none were severed.[xxv] In July 2011, France announced plans to open up a “cooperation bureau” in Pyongyang to support the activities of French NGOs, emphasizing that this would be cultural bureau, and not a diplomatic mission.[xxvi]
|United Kingdom||12/12/2000||New Zealand||3/26/2001||Montenegro||7/16/2007|
|Netherlands||1/15/2001||Kuwait||4/4/2001||United Arab Emirates||9/17/2007|
Dates diplomatic relations established, alphabetical order
|Antigua & Barbuda||11/27/1990||Ghana||12/28/1964||Pakistan||11/9/1972|
|Argentina||1973||Greece||3/8/2001||Papua New Guinea||6/1/1976|
|Belize||6/20/1991||Iraq||1968||São Tomé and Principe||8/9/1975|
|Bosnia and Herzegovina||1/19/1996||Italy||1/4/2000||Serbia ||10/30/1948|
|Central African Republic||9/5/1969||Liberia||12/20/1973||Sri Lanka||7/15/1970|
|Chad||5/8/1969||Libya||1/23/1974||St. Kitts and Nevis||12/13/1991|
|Chile||6/1/1972||Liechtenstein||5/2/2001||St. Vincent and the Grenadines||8/16/1990|
|Czech Republic||1/1/1993||Mauritius||3/16/1973||Trinidad and Tobago||1/22/1986|
|East Germany||1949||Mozambique||6/25/1975||United Arab Emirates||9/17/2007|
|East Timor||11/5/2002||Myanmar||1975||United Kingdom||12/12/2000|
 Relations initially established with National Liberation Front, prior to Algeria winning independence.
 Relations broken off in June 1977
 Suspended January 1985; later resumed.
 Relations broken off October 1980
 Suspended August 1986; later resumed.
 Relations suspended from June 1977 to March 1980
 Relations suspended from November 1983 to April 2007
 Assumed diplomatic relations from Soviet Union.
 Assumed diplomatic relations from Yugoslavia.
 Relations suspended from March 1971 to March 1975.
 Relations initially established with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam, during the French Indochina War.
Last Updated June 11, 2012
[ii] Charles K. Armstrong, “Juche and North Korea’s Global Aspirations,” North Korea International Documentation Project Working Paper No. 1 (April 2009).
[iii] Ministry of Unification, 북한 이해 2009 [Understanding North Korea], MOU 2009
[iv] This table, along with subsequent ones, are drawn from several sources of data, which sometimes conflict. These sources include the ROK Ministry of Foreign Affairs 2011 Diplomatic White Paper; “The People’s Korea” website < http://www1.korea-np.co.jp/pk/029th_issue/98020407.htm>; Yonhap News Agency, North Korea Handbook (M.E. Sharpe, 2003); and Byung Chul Koh, The Foreign Policy Systems of North and South Korea (University of California Press, 1984), p. 11. Whenever possible, conflicting dates have been resolved through reference to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (or equivalent) of the relevant country, or through contemporary news accounts.
[v] Although Palestine is not recognized as a state by the UN, it has official representatives in Pyongyang.
[vi] Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, White Paper 2009, MOFAT 2009
[vii] Mitchell Lerner, “‘Mostly Propaganda in Nature:’ Kim Il Sung, the Juche Ideology, and the Second Korean War,” North Korea International Documentation Project Working Paper No. 3 (December 2010).
[viii] Jae-gyu Park, “북한의 대 아프리카 외교정책 [North Korea’s Foreign Policy to Africa],” 북한외교론 3 (1977)
[ix] Jide Owoeye, “The Metamorphosis of North Korea’s African Policy,” Asian Survey, Vol. 31, No. 7 (July 1991), pp. 630-645.
[x] Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, White Paper 2009, MOFAT, op. cited.
[xi] Ki-jong Lee, “북한의 대 제 3 세계 비동맹 외교 정책 [North Korea’s Foreign Policy to the Third World],” 시민정치학회 (1997)
[xii] Tae-un Kim, “북한의 대 EU 수교 현황과 그 배경 [Status of North Korea’s diplomatic ties with EU and its
background] ,” 한국정치정보학회 (2001)
[xiii] Bernd Schafer, “Overconfidence Shattered: North Korean Unification Policy, 1971-1975,” North Korea International Documentation Project Working Paper No. 2 (December 2010)
[xiv] KINU 2009북한 개요. op. cited. p.119; Andrei Lankov, “Narco-Capitalism Grips North Korea,” Asia Times, March 11, 2011.
[xv] Barry K. Gills, Korea versus Korea: A Case of Contested Legitimacy (Routledge, 1996), p. 198.
[xvi] Ibid., pp. 190-256.
[xvii] Time Magazine “A Bomb Wreaks Havoc in Rangoon,” Oct. 17, 1983. < http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,952196,00.html>
[xviii] KAL 858 Blown Up by North Korean Terrorists: Panel, Chosun Ilbo (South Korea), August 1, 2006
[xix] Ministry of Unification, 북한 이해 2009 [Understanding of North Korea], MOU 2009
[xx] Don Oberdorfer, The Two Koreas: A Contemporary History, New Edition (Basic Books, 2001), pp. 186-192.
[xxi] In 1993, North Korea closed embassies in Jamaica and Benin. In 1995, it closed embassies in Portugal, Nicaragua, Tunisia, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Lebanon, Congo, Burundi, Mozambique, Hungary. In 1998, it closed embassies in Denmark, Finland, Jordan, Ghana, Senegal, Algeria, Zimbabwe, Mali, Zambia, Togo, Kazakhstan, and Ukraine. In 1999, it closed embassies in Mongolia, Angola, and Venezuela.
[xxii] Keun-sik Kim, “북한의 체제보전과 대외정책 변화 [North Korean Regime Integrity and the Change of North Korea’ Foreign Policy: From Encampment Diplomacy to All Directional Diplomacy],” 국제정치논총 4 (2002)
[xxiii] The DPRK closed its embassy in Australia in 2008 for financial reasons.
[xxiv] AFP: “French envoy Jack Lang arrives in Pyongyang.” Sep. 17, 2009 <http://www.france24.com/en/20091109-french-envoy-jack-lang-arrives-pyongyang>, < http://www.nkeconwatch.com/2011/07/12/france-to-open-pyongyang-office/>
[xxv] For example, Canada imposed new sanctions and restricted high-level contacts with North Korea, but did not formally sever its diplomatic relationship. See “Canada-Democratic People’s Republic of Korea Factsheet” at <http://www.canadainternational.gc.ca/korea-coree/bilateral_relations_bilaterales/canada-dpr_korea-rpd_coree.aspx?lang=eng&view=d>. See also Scott Snyder and See-Won Byun, “Cheonan and Yeonpyeong, The Northeast Asian Response to North Korea ’s Provocations.” The Rusi Journal, p. 79 <http://asiafoundation.org/resources/pdfs/201104SnyderandByun.pdf>
[xxvi] “France Plans to Set Up Cooperation Bureau in N. Korea in September,” July 13, 2011, Airang News, http://www.arirang.co.kr/News/News_View.asp?nseq=118067&code=Ne2&category=2