The foreign relations of North Korea are certainly a complex and byzantine affair, but despite the country’s reputation for being reclusive and insular, North Korea enjoys diplomatic relations with a whole host of countries – including a few that might surprise you!
Foreign Relations of North Korea – A history
COMINTERN, China, and the Sino-Soviet Split
North Korea’s early foreign policy was largely shaped by its relationship with the USSR, and thus the broader COMINTERN movement.
Ironically, given their close relationship (both geographically and politically) to both Russia and China, North Korea was pretty much the only Socialist Bloc country that were not required to take sides in the Sino-Soviet Split. Even today, China and Russia remain the DPRK’s closest allies.
Following the fall of the USSR and the end of global communism, North Korea needed to change tack. They thus started to reach out more and more to the capitalist world.
The modern diplomatic relations of North Korea
This brings us to the present, in which the DPRK enjoys eclectic foreign trade and diplomatic relations to say the very least!
In the foreign relations of North Korea it has embassies in 47 countries, and holds some form of diplomatic relations with 164 countries in total. Some countries, such as Japan and the USA, do not officially recognise the DPRK as a country.
Algeria was the first non-communist country to recognise the DPRK. North Korea took an active role in revolutionary movements throughout the Third World, supporting such diverse groups as the Black Panthers and the Workers’ Party of Ireland.
North Korea in Africa and beyond
Algeria is not the only African country to have enjoyed close ties to the DPRK. Nations such as Angola and Namibia still boast excellent relations with North Korea, and there are a number of monuments built by the North Koreans throughout Africa.
Nowadays, whilst there isn’t much in the way of a global socialist movement, it’s interesting to note that the last country to open an embassy in the DPRK was the Bolivarian Republic of Venezuela. Is the Socialist Bloc making a comeback?
To read our guide to Socialist Countries click here.
North Korea and international trade
From a trading point of view, things are, as previously mentioned, on the eclectic side. The aforementioned Chinese and Russian are most prominent, but there are some other major players. Singapore and Malaysia have historically been heavily involved with trade to North Korea, particularly involving consumer goods.
Other countries such as Pakistan, Kuwait and Egypt – the latter of which is responsible for North Korea’s cellphone network – also enjoy comparatively good relations.
Cambodia, the South, the USA and beyond
One particularly strong bond was between the Kingdom of Cambodia and the DPRK. King Sihanouk was, famously, great friends with President Kim Il Sung. Sihanouk spent many of his years in exile in a villa he maintained in Pyongyang, and would regularly visit throughout his life.
To read about the friendhsip between Sihanouk and Kim Il-Sung click here.
North Korea – American Relations
In the past this was something that simply did not exist. During the arly Trump days it even looked like the DPRK and the USA would go to war, but how quickly things change. Overtures were made and in probably the biggest coup in the history of the foreign relations of North Korea Leader Kim Jong Un was to meet Trump.
Now whilst the two meetings did not overly achieve that much, they were still extremely historically important. How things will change under Biden, no one knows.
To read about the Trump-Kim summit in Hanoi click here.
North Korea Allies
Whilst the cold war is now over (for some), and the concept of allies in the old sense no longer really exists, but are there North Korean allies? In the traditional sense, China would be considered the closest ally of the DPRK, both politically and economically.
The Russian Federation still remains on extremely close terms with North Korea, although to nowhere a level as during Soviet times.
From a party to party perspective, the fellow “communist” countries of Laos and Vietnam at least play lip service when it comes to being allied, but in reality, there is relatively little economic, or political collaboration between them.
When it comes to non-national players, you could also include the Korean Friendship Association as an organization that is at the forefront of non-governmental North Korean allies.
Find out firsthand about the DPRK’s international relations on one of our many tours there!.