Sources: North Korea and the World

Kent Boydston (PIIE)



Occasionally, this blog likes to note interesting projects that shed new light on North Korea. The new “North Korea in the World” project, a collaborate effort between the National Committee on North Korea and the East-West Center, is an interactive new website that allows North Korea watchers to dig into North Korea’s relationships with the world and international bodies. The joint pilot project—which will be updated as new information becomes available—displays a wide variety of data pertaining to North Korea policy that’s accessible and offers nuance.

The joint pilot project includes two interactive world maps which provide a country-by-country history of North Korea’s diplomatic relationships. The maps builds off of a report that Daniel Wertz, JJ Oh, and Kim Insung published last year on the DPRK’s diplomatic relations. The project notes 164 countries with whom the DPRK maintains diplomatic relations, 24 of which maintain embassies in Pyongyang, and 47 countries in which North Korea operates an embassy. Clearly, North Korea is getting more out of its diplomatic relationships by dispatching its diplomats abroad, who engage in a variety of illicit activities from money-laundering to assassinations with WMD, than the other way around. (See recent posts on the UN Panel of Experts report and the DPRK’s cash-generating hostel-leasing scheme at its embassy in Berlin). Understandably, UNSCR 2321 took a stab at restricting the behavior of DPRK diplomats abroad by encouraging countries to decrease the raw number of DPRK embassy staff and limiting each staffer to one bank account.

The North Korea in the World project also provides an overview of the DPRK’s economic relationships by aggregating much of the same economic data tracked on this blog. A particularly useful tool of the site is its section on North Korea’s relationships with multi-lateral bodies and international treaties of which the DPRK has signed, as well as documentation of votes condemning North Korea’s human rights record at the UN General Assembly. The chart shows a trend over the last decade of countries’ increasingly willingness to publicly criticize Pyongyang: in 2005, 88 countries voted in favor of a resolution, while in 2015, 119 countries voted to condemn the DPRK. The project also offers data on humanitarian aid to North Korea over time, which for a variety of reasons has declined in the last several years.

As North Korea’s most influential partner, there is also a section dedicated solely to China-DPRK relations, which includes an outline of the trade relationship on a sector-specific level. Particularly interesting is that the project provides data on North Korean trade at the Chinese provincial level. The largest trading partners are naturally the Liaoning and Jilin provinces bordering North Korea, followed by Shandong and Jiangsu, which are a straight shot across the Yellow Sea. Another trend that the site tracks is the number of DPRK nationals entering China, which has increased significantly since the late 1990s tracking growth in the China-DPRK trade relationship.

The North Korea in the World Project carries out a herculean task compiling a diverse set of data from disparate North Korea policy areas in a visually accessible format. This will be useful for any DPRK watcher trying to figure out the North Korea puzzle. 

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