King Sihanouk is one of the most iconic leaders of the 20th century, and he also holds the record for most “head of state” titles in the world. He got this through ruling as King, Prince, President, and Head of State, to name but a mere few. King Sihanouk’s love of North Korea was multi-faceted in that it involved politics, genuine friendship, and cultural respect.
We’ve written extensively on the relations between Cambodia and North Korea, but what was really interesting was the friendship between Sihanouk and Kim-Il-Sung.
The Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) was supposed to be a middle ground between the western and eastern blocs. Sihanouk and Cambodia were members, as were Kim Il Sung and North Korea. The two met in 1965 and it would appear they became fast friends.
It might seem strange for a King to be good friends with a communist leader, but these were strange times and King Sihanouk was no ordinary king.
The coup of 1970
Following the coup of 1970 that overthrew King Sihanouk, he fled initially to China, but was also to spend some time as a guest of President Kim Il Sung in Pyongyang. Throughout this period, the DPRK recognized King Sihanouk as the legitimate head of state of Cambodia.
King Sihanouk had entered an uneasy alliance with the Khmer Rouge which eventually led to them taking over the country with him (briefly) as head of state. During this time the DPRK recognized and supported the Khmer Rouge government.
After Democratic Kampuchea
Interestingly, North Korea did not support the newly established Soviet-supported People’s Republic of Kampuchea, but continued to support the Coalition Government of Democratic Kampuchea. They insisted to Sihanouk personally at the time that they would only recognize him as head of state, putting them at direct odds with Soviet policy of the time. Yes, Sihanouk’s love of North Korea was a political one too.
Sihanouk and North Korea
During the 1970’s Sihanouk spent a lot of time in a palace near the capital of Pyongyang as a guest of the DPRK and right up until the end of his life he spent various, often long periods in Pyongyang. He even made movies using North Korean actors! Although, we are yet to get hold of any of these! He was also provided until his death with a team of North Korean bodyguards, which is no mean feat.
In his 2005 memoir, King Sihanouk wrote that Kim was “my surest and most sincere friend and the most steadfast in my support. Even more than a friend: “a true brother and my only ‘true relative’ after the death of my mother.”King Sihanouk’s love of North Korea truly ran deep.
Cambodia and North Korea today?
There is a Kim Il-Sung Street in Pyongyang, which is a must for photo takers and relations remained rather good, but alas due to the sanctions now imposed on the DPRK actual exchanges are somewhat limited now.
You can read more about North Korea-Cambodia relations here.