Understanding North Korea: Foreign Relations of North Korea in 2000

By | November 04, 2019 | No Comments

Jo Myong-rok, Vice-Chairman of the DPRK’s National Defense Commission meets with the-Secretary of Defense William Cohen at the Pentagon in 2000 | Source: Wikimedia Commons

As it approached the new century, North Korea was seeking its bearings internationally amidst the isolation that followed the collapse of the socialist camp and near-withdrawal from the Non-Proliferation Treaty (NPT). Pyongyang tried to restore relations with old partners such as Moscow, as well as reaching out to smaller states, often via the Non-Aligned Movement. In this translation from the original Korean, Sino-NK analyst Yujin Lim offers a glimpse of how Seoul perceived Pyongyang’s program of diplomatic outreach, offering observers a chance to peer into the origins of contemporary North Korean foreign policy, much of which has seen continuity under Kim Jong-un – Anthony V. Rinna, Senior Editor.

This document is a translation from the first of what has since become an annual publication from an arm of the Ministry of Unification in Seoul, Understanding North Korea 2000 [2000년 북한이해]. The translated section is from the first part of “Chapter 3. Foreign Relations of North Korea.” The original document can be found here.

Part I. Changes in the External Environment

In the 1990s, North Korea faced diplomatic isolation and economic difficulties caused by the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the transformation of the Eastern Bloc. These were also caused by South Korea’s achievements in Nordpolitik [북방외교] and the international pressure caused by international inspections of its nuclear facilities. Accordingly, North Korea has responded to its diplomatic isolation by seeking improved relations with Western countries – mainly the US and Japan – and implementing a limited policy of openness to deepening economic difficulties. Against this background, Kim Il-sung stressed in his New Year’s address in 1994: “Based on the principle of self-reliance, we will strive to promote unity with socialist countries and develop good friendships with capitalist countries that advocate self-reliance.”

This point on the principle of strengthening the solidarity of anti-imperialist states and maintaining consistency in foreign policy was repeatedly emphasized in the Joint Editorial of the publications of the party [Rodong Sinmun] and military [Chosun People’s Army] in 1998 after Kim Il-sung’s death. Based on this, the characteristics of North Korea’s recent regional diplomatic relations can be summarized as follows.

First, the relationship between North Korea and the socialist camp has been somewhat restored by the continuous promotion of a strategy to strengthen solidarity, but it has been weakened by the reduction of the socialist camp itself. In order to overcome its economic crisis, North Korea has begun to further strengthen cooperative ties with China, while also rebuilding cooperative ties in the economic and military sectors with Russia, which had been estranged from both South Korea and the US.

Second, North Korea is making various efforts to improve ties with non-aligned nations,1)The term used here is “countries that do not participate in blocs” (쁠럭불가담 나라들, the North Korean version of the South Korean term 비동맹국) although this has shrunk somewhat compared to the past. For example, North Korean Foreign Minister Kim Yong-nam attended a ministerial meeting of the Non-Aligned Coordination Commission (`98. 5, Colombia) and asked non-aligned countries to actively express solidarity with North Korea, along with being faithful to the ideology of the non-aligned movement. In the Joint Editorial of the party, military and Youth League publications in 1999, Kim Jong-il said, “Let us consistently follow through on the foreign policy ideology of `self-reliance, peace and friendship` as we did in the past, but also strengthen unity and solidarity with the progressive people of the world by enhancing the spirit of anti-imperialism.”

Third, while North Korea is actively seeking to improve its relations with the US, Japan and the West, this is insufficient to replace the solidarity of the international revolutionary movement. North Korea has been trying to induce direct negotiations with the US government over its nuclear weapons program, and advance DPRK-US relations. In both 1995 and 1999, the US eased economic sanctions on North Korea; however, North Korea still has not been able to receive benefits such as funding support from the Export-Import Bank [of Korea], much less US most-favored nation status or preferential tariffs.

Despite all of this, US-North Korea relations have slowly but progressively improved, and improvements in Japan-North Korea relations are also entering a phase of renegotiation in line with progress in US-North Korea relations.

In the future, North Korea will again seek to use foreign policy to resolve its diplomatic isolation and economic difficulties and to stabilize the Kim Jong-il regime. At the core of this lies improving relations with the United States.

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1. The term used here is “countries that do not participate in blocs” (쁠럭불가담 나라들, the North Korean version of the South Korean term 비동맹국

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