North Korea has formal diplomatic relations with 164 countries, according to the US-based National Committee on North Korea. Forty-seven countries host a North Korean embassy, while 24 have an embassy in Pyongyang. Most of the countries that do not have an embassy in North Korea handle their diplomatic affairs with the country from their embassies in neighboring China or South Korea.
Major countries with formal diplomatic relations
– Germany: North Korea’s ties with Germany are largely a remnant of communist East Germany’s relations with Pyongyang that began in 1949 at the beginning of the Cold War. Following the reunification of Germany, Berlin closed down East Germany’s embassy in the Munsu-dong compound for ten years before reopening it in late 2000. (It now shares the compound with the British and Swedish embassies.) The 17 years of formal ties have failed to ignite a closer relationship. Yet Germany has recently taken a more conciliatory position toward the communist regime than its American ally. Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel has called on all sides to reach a diplomatic solution to tensions sparked by North Korea’s most recent missile and nuclear weapons tests.
– Britain: London first established ties with North Korea in late 2000. Then British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook said Britain wanted to engage the country after decades of Cold War isolation. Like Germany, British-North Korean relations are far from close. But London’s recent approach to Pyongyang has mirrored Germany’s. Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said in October: “Whatever we may think of the regime and its behavior, the ruling elite of North Korea is in the end composed of human beings. We must find ways of getting through to them.”
– China: Beijing has long been Pyongyang’s closest ally. Both countries first established diplomatic relations in the early Cold War. China supports North Korea’s defense through a 1961 alliance treaty and props up its neighbor’s decrepit economy. Chinese trade accounts for over 90 percent of North Korea’s total trade volume, according to the US-based Council on Foreign Relations, with Pyongyang especially dependent on Chinese fuel and food imports. Beijing has criticized North Korea for its missile and nuclear weapons programs, but has also blamed the US for escalating tensions.
– Russia: North Korean-Russian relations date back to the Soviet era. Today, Moscow not only has an embassy in Pyongyang, but also a consulate in the northeastern city of Chongjin. Like China, it has criticized North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons programs, but has also charged the US with provoking crises on the Korean peninsula. Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said in November: “It seems, they have done everything on purpose, to make North Korean leader Kim Jong Un lose control and make another desperate move.”
– India: New Delhi established diplomatic relations with North Korea in 1973. Around this time, Pyongyang was trying to build relationships with countries such as India that refused to side with the western or eastern blocs that dominated Cold War international politics. New Delhi has recently condemned Pyongyang’s nuclear tests while defending its diplomatic relations with the country. Indian Foreign Minister Sushma Swaraj said in October it was important to keep the country’s embassy in North Korea “so that some channels of communication are kept open.”
– Pakistan: Pyongyang and Islamabad first established diplomatic ties in 1972. Their relationship since then has been controversial. The scientist who led Pakistan’s nuclear weapons program, Abdul Qadeer Khan, said he had shared nuclear technology with North Korea in 2004. Speaking to DW, Pakistani nuclear physicist Pervez Hoodbhoy confirmed that Islamabad did indirectly contribute to North Korea’s nuclear program sometime after 1989. Pakistan’s foreign ministry has in recent months expressed “concern” over Pyongyang’s missile tests.
Major countries with no formal diplomatic relations
– United States: The US and North Korea have rarely interacted since the end of the Korean War (1950-1953). The conflict ended without a peace treaty and the US and South Korea signing a mutual defense pact. Washington has tried to isolate North Korea to stop its missile and nuclear weapons programs since the early 2000s. The election of President Donald Trump in 2016 escalated tensions. The president has threatened Pyongyang with “fire and fury” if it continued to threaten the US and called North Korean leader Kim Jong Un “short and fat.”
– France: Paris does not have formal diplomatic relations with North Korea. But it does have a Cooperation and Cultural Action Office in Pyongyang and has indirect diplomatic relations via the EU, which established formal ties in 2001. France strongly denounced North Korea after its recent tests. Most recently, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said: ” I reiterate my strong belief that – more than ever – it is time to step up pressure and sanctions.”
– South Korea: North and South Korea were established in 1948 after the US and Soviet Union had divided the Korean peninsula into separately controlled zones at the end of World War II. Seoul and Pyongyang claimed sovereignty over the entire peninsula, and in 1950, they declared war on each other after the North invaded the South. Both governments have struggled to make any progress toward better relations since then. The North’s missile and nuclear programs, along with its repeated threats against Seoul, have done little to improve the situation.
– Japan: Tokyo has always sided with Seoul and Washington in its relations with Pyongyang. Japan recognized South Korea as the only legitimate government on the Korean peninsula in 1965 and has a military alliance with the US. Japan has also strongly opposed the North’s missile and nuclear weapons programs, which Tokyo fears could be used against it. Pyongyang’s previous two missile tests flew very close to Japanese territory.