The Impartial Intermediary: An Overview of Switzerland-North Korea Relations

National Committee on North Korea & East-West Center in Washington


September 22, 2023, 11:00 am EDT to 12:00 pm EDT


Friday, September 22
11:00-12:00 PM EDT
Virtual Webinar via Zoom


Katherina Zellweger
Founder, KorAid Limited
Former DPRK Country Director, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation

Ross Tokola (Moderator)
Programs Manager, East-West Center in Washington

While formal diplomatic relations between Switzerland and North Korea were established in 1974, the neutral nation has served as an intermediary for Western engagement since the end of the Korean War. Switzerland's role as a facilitator of political dialogue and humanitarian efforts between North Korea and the western world remained crucial to peacekeeping efforts on the Peninsula up to the onset of the pandemic. How has Switzerland been able to maintain its neutrality in the nuclear era? What can other global actors learn from Switzerland's engagement efforts?  

Join the National Committee on North Korea and the East-West Center in Washington for a special edition of North Korea in the World featuring Katharina Zellweger, the former North Korea country director for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation, and a veteran of extensive humanitarian engagement in the country. She will discuss her tenure in Pyongyang, strategies for effective engagement with North Korea, and her perspective on the past, present and future of DPRK-Swiss relations. 

This webinar is a special edition episode of North Korea in the World, which examined North Korea's historical and contemporary relations with countries in Europe and how those countries navigate relations between the United States, South Korea, and North Korea. It follows a prior North Korea in the World webinar series on North Korea’s relations with countries across the Global South.

The North Korea in the World project is a joint initiative of the National Committee on North Korea and the East-West Center in Washington; the website collects and curates information and data on North Korea’s external economic and diplomatic relations.

This on-the-record webinar will take place entirely on Zoom and will be available for viewing afterwards on NCNK's YouTube channel. 

About the Speakers

Katharina Zellweger manages KorAid Limited, an NGO which she established in 2015, based in Hong Kong, to focus on serving children in institutions and people with disabilities in North Korea and in China. KorAid has further potential for engagement in additional projects in these countries. Zellweger brings over 30 years of field experience as a senior aid manager in Hong Kong, China and North Korea to this undertaking.  She was based in Pyongyang for five years (2006-2011) as the North Korea country director for the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC), an office of the Swiss Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  At SDC her work focused on sustainable agricultural production to address food security issues, income generation to improve people’s livelihoods, and capacity development to contribute to individual and institutional learning. Before joining SDC, from 1978 to 2006, Zellweger worked in a senior capacity at Caritas-Hong Kong, a Catholic agency, playing a key role in pioneering the Caritas involvement in China and in North Korea.

After her time in Pyongyang, Zellweger was for two academic years a visiting fellow at the Asia Pacific Research Center and for a number of years a North Korea Program Affiliate at the Center for International Security and Cooperation, both at Stanford University in California. Today she is still a network affiliate there. 

She is an expert and frequent presenter on the current situation of the North Korean people, giving talks to audiences in the U.S., Europe, and elsewhere. She has also made significant contributions to the field through her participation in workshops, seminars, and conferences concerning both humanitarian and security issues on the Korean peninsula, most specifically regarding North Korea. 

Katharina Zellweger has a master’s degree in International Administration from the School for International Training in Brattleboro, Vermont.  In 2006, she received the honor of a Dame of St. Gregory the Great from the Vatican for her work in North Korea.

Ross Tokola is a Programs Manager at the East-West Center in Washington, responsible for EWC congressional staff programs on the Indo-Pacific region, for visiting fellowships, for publications as well as for projects pertaining to the Korean Peninsula. Previously, Mr. Tokola was a Program Officer at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies during his five years in Seoul, and worked for the US embassies both in the Republic of Korea and in the United Kingdom. In Washington, DC, he interned for the US House of Representatives Committee on Ways and Means, carried out research projects on behalf of US-based Korea policy experts, and was Assistant Editor for The Asan Forum: An Online Journal. In addition to studying the Korean language at Sogang University in Seoul, he holds a first class honors B.A. and M.A. in Philosophy from Heythrop College, University of London, and a M.Phil. in International Relations from the Department of Politics and International Studies at the University of Cambridge.




View Original Invitation.