Home *
Policy *
Countries & Regions *
Country Profiles *
* *
Afghanistan *
* *
Africa *
* *
Iraq *
* *
Latin America & Caribbean *
* *
Middle East Peace Process *
* *
Western Balkans *
* *
* search
*  Go
* * *
Sitemap Search Page Subscribe Page Feedback Page Home Text Only
* * *

Flag of Korea, DPR (North Korea)

Full Country Name: The Democratic People's Republic of Korea

Map of North Korea
Area: 121,555 sq km (75,364 sq mi) (55% of the peninsula)
Population: 22.8m
Capital City: Pyongyang
People: Korean, with small Chinese minorities.
Language(s): Korean, although more formal and with less borrowed Western vocabulary than in the ROK
Religion(s): Buddhism, Christianity and Chondo (a Korean syncretic religion) are officially recognised
Currency: Won (=100 jon)
Major political parties: Workers' Party of Korea (WPK)
Government: Centralist state led by Workers' Party of Korea with elected Supreme People's Assembly.
President: Kim Il Sung is the eternal President under the 1998 Constitution although he died in 1994. His son Kim Jong Il is in charge of political, military and economic affairs as Chairman of the National Defence Commission
Head of State: Kim Yong Nam represents the state as President of the Presidium of the Supreme People's Assembly.
Foreign Minister: Paek Nam Sun
Membership of international groupings/organisations: Food and Agriculture Organisation, Group of 77, International Atomic Energy Agency, International Fund for Agricultural Development, International Maritime Organisation, International Telecommunications Union, Non-Aligned Movement, United Nations, United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, United Nations Industrial Development Organisation, Universal Postal Union, World Health Organisation, World Intellectual Property Organisation, World Meteorological Organisation.


The Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) forms the northern half of the Korean peninsula, which lies between China and Japan, and so is often referred to as North Korea. Its capital city, Pyongyang, lies to the west. The DPRK has a land area about the same as England. The Demilitarised Zone (DMZ), that separates the DPRK from the Republic of Korea (ROK) to the south, is a 250-mile long strip of land, running from the east coast to the west, close to the 38th parallel.

Mountains or upland account for 80% of the DPRK (compared to 70% in the ROK). But the country has sizeable deposits of coal, other minerals, and non-ferrous metals and many of its rivers are suitable for generating hydroelectric power.


Korea is an ancient civilisation. It developed from walled-town states and larger kingdoms and, despite a strong Chinese influence, became united and independent from 668. After being 'opened' by Japan in 1876, China, Japan and Russia competed for influence until Japan annexed the country in 1910. The end of the Pacific War freed Korea from 35 years of Japanese rule although a US-Soviet decision left the country divided along the 38th Parallel after Japan's surrender. The Republic of Korea (ROK) was founded in the south on 15 August 1948 and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) in the north on 9 September the same year.

On 25 June 1950 the DPRK invaded the ROK and over-ran most of the country. A United Nations' Command (UNC) was established under UN Security Council resolutions to assist the ROK. After the successful defence of a 'perimeter' near the south-east city of Pusan and US landings near Seoul in September, UN and ROK forces beat DPRK forces back north, almost to the Chinese border. Chinese forces entered the war in November 1950 and the battle line was again pushed south of Seoul before UN and ROK forces held and then pushed Chinese and DPRK forces back to near the 38th Parallel. The war devastated the peninsula. Seoul changed hands four times and was reduced to rubble and, because of its air supremacy, the UNC was able to destroy almost every building of importance in the north. Over onem died on each side. DPRK losses were the greater. An armistice was signed between the DPRK/China and UNC on 27 July 1953. The ROK refused to sign but agreed to abide by its terms.

This is an external link BBC Monitoring Timeline



The DPRK is an 'independent socialist state representing the interests of all the Korean people' with its sovereignty residing in 'the workers, peasants, working intellectuals and all other working people'. All of its state organs 'are formed and functioned on the principle of democratic centralism' and all, ' from the county People's Assembly to the Supreme People's Assembly, are elected on the principle of universal, equal and direct suffrage by secret ballot'. But the DPRK is also 'guided in its activities by the Juche idea' of 'self-reliant independence for the masses' and 'shall conduct all activities under the leadership of the Workers' Party of Korea' (WPK). Its foreign policy principles are 'independence, peace and solidarity'. Numerous aspects of the Constitution are, perhaps as expected from a state that takes so much pride in its independence, peculiar to the DPRK.

Recent Political Developments

With the Korean War having been so bitterly fought, tension between DPRK and ROK remained high even after 1953. There were numerous armed clashes but the national dream of Korean reunification remained. In 1960, Kim Il Sung proposed pursuing reunification through confederation between equals, similar to China's much later 'one country, two systems' policy, and, with minor refinements, this remains in place. In the early 1970s, the Koreas opened a Red Cross dialogue followed by political talks that produced the Joint Communiqué of July 1972 in which the DPRK and ROK agreed to work for peaceful reunification.

Among the many initiatives that appeared during the 1980s, there were DPRK proposals for trilateral DPRK-ROK-US talks and the creation of a nuclear-free zone on the Korean peninsula. There were also attempts to negotiate joint sports teams, to co-host the Seoul Olympics, and to arrange economic and military talks. But the only concrete progress seen was a reunion meeting in 1985 of family members separated since the Korean War. Each time there seemed to be some hope of advance, the talks foundered as one side or the other introduced new conditions or accused the other of pushing too hard.

After the success of the 1988 Seoul Olympics, the ROK established diplomatic relations with many of the DPRK's traditional partners and ROK President Roh Tae-woo pursued contact with the DPRK under his 'Northern Policy'. He had some success. In late 1990, the two premiers visited each other's capital for high-level meetings and also met the heads of state. In 1991, a joint 'Korea' team won the Table Tennis World Championship. Both Koreas joined the UN on 17 September. In 1994, preparations were made for a Summit but, with the death of Kim Il Sung on 8 July 1994, bilateral relations cooled again.

In April 1996, US President Clinton and then ROK President Kim Young-sam announced a proposal for four-party talks, involving the two Koreas, the US and China. The first Four-Party Talks took place in December 1997 and achieved their modest objective of getting all sides to the negotiating table. There were five further rounds of talks although these produced negligible progress.

After his inauguration, ROK President Kim Dae-jung, who had long been in favour of engagement with the DPRK, decided to pursue dialogue and co-operation under his 'Sunshine Policy'. This aimed to reduce tension on the peninsula and encourage inter-Korean co-operation. Its three main pillars are commitment by the ROK not to absorb the DPRK, no toleration of DPRK military provocation, and separation of economic and political issues. Kim also lifted restrictions on ROK investment in the DPRK.

President Kim Dae-jung tried to give his policy another push in March 2000 with his 'Berlin Declaration' that called for government-to-government dialogue and inter-Korean economic co-operation. There was no official DPRK reply until, as a complete surprise, the DPRK and ROK announced simultaneously on 10 April that there would be a Summit in Pyongyang on 12-14 June. Expectations were low, with President Kim saying the main result of the Summit would probably be the meeting itself.

Kim Jong Il participated in several meetings although Supreme People's Assembly Presidium President Kim Yong Nam hosted official sessions. The atmospherics were good throughout the Summit and, at the end, the 15 June Joint Declaration was signed. Under this, the two sides agreed to work independently for national unification, to recognise the common elements in the two sides' proposals for federation-confederation, to co-operate to promote a balanced national economy, to promote exchanges and co-operation, and to work towards the settlement of some humanitarian issues by 15 August. It was also agreed that Kim Jong Il would make a return visit to the ROK. This agreement and the relationship established between the two leaders were results beyond even optimistic expectations.

After the Summit, there were numerous meetings between the two sides with most of these focussed on implementing the Joint Declaration. As well as several rounds of Ministerial-level talks, there were also three family reunions, the repatriation of DPRK prisoners from the ROK, working level economic and military talks, defence and foreign ministers' talks and the establishment of an economic co-operation committee. Work also started on the symbolic reconnection of north-south rail links, due for completion by the end of 2001. Starting from such a low base, the rate of progress was rapid.

Progress in the inter-Korean dialogue slowed after the US presidential elections in 2000. With relations with the Clinton Administration having improved considerably, the DPRK reacted against signs of the Bush Administration taking a more cautious line. In March 2001, the DPRK withdrew from planned contacts with the ROK because what it saw as a 'hostile' US stance. Unofficial contacts soon resumed and, after the US policy review ended in June, the ROK were optimistic about the early resumption of official contacts. But, it was not until 2 September, after the perceived pro-DPRK activities of some South Korean citizens during a visit to the North had caused a political furore in the ROK, that the DPRK proposed a resumption of the official dialogue.

The 5th Ministerial-level meeting was held in Seoul on 15-18 September 2001. The talks appeared to pick up just where they had stalled six months earlier. The joint declaration issued at the end of the meeting covered familiar issues. The two sides agreed that they would implement the 15 June Joint Declaration, develop bilateral exchanges, hold a fourth family reunion meeting on 16-18 October, exchange martial arts exhibition teams, continue developing economic links and hold a 6th Ministerial meeting. The meeting did take place in early November but by then, the DPRK was agitated at the state of alert declared by the ROK due to the international war against terrorism and, for the first time, the meeting finished without any agreed statement.Little progress was made between then and a visit to the DPRK by an ROK special envoy at the start of April. This visit produced another agreement between the two sides although this again covered the same issues as previous ones. It did produce an early result with another round of family visits taking place at the end of April but the economic talks that were to be held at the start of May were postponed by the DPRK.


Basic Economic Facts

GDP: US$ 16.8 bn
GDP per head: US$ 757
Annual Growth: 1.3% in 2000
Major Industries: Agriculture still accounts for 25% of economic activity. Dominance of heavy industry, including steel, cement and machinery, and mining is gradually declining with light industries, especially textiles growing. Recent major push for IT development.
Major trading partners: Japan, China, India, Thailand and Hong Kong.
Aid & development: Low agricultural production since 1994 has led to DPRK becoming humanitarian major recipient of humanitarian aid, especially food. Limited development aid also received, mainly through the UNDP.
Exchange rate: Official rate is about 3.1 won to the British pound
This is an external link Trade Partners UK Country Profile: North Korea

Because of the distribution of natural resources, Japan developed heavy industry in the north and agriculture and textiles in the south. With its ability to marshal resources and an infrastructure in place, the DPRK achieved higher economic growth than the ROK until about 1970 when the effects of delays and bottlenecks became apparent. The DPRK did enter international markets but was unable to achieve the necessary level of exports and ran a trade deficit. After accumulating debts so high that it could not service them during the 1970s, the level of foreign trade again declined. The collapse of the Soviet Union, the break-up of the COMECON economic system, and the ending of cheap energy imports from the Communist block, made a bad situation even worse. Growth was also adversely affected by years of bad harvests from the early 1990s. The economy remains centrally planned with industry centred on coal, steel, chemicals and machine tools. But antiquated machinery and energy shortages have left it running well below capacity. Economic activity fell through the 1990s and, despite signs of recovery since 1999, GDP is probably only ¾ of 1989 levels. A modernisation programme, based on extending use of IT, has been announced but this will be building from a weak base.


DPRK's relations with the International Community

When its traditional allies established relations with the ROK around 1990, the DPRK considered this to be a betrayal. It also failed to establish new links of its own and found itself isolated as the ROK developed thriving relations, especially economic, with China, the DPRK's closest ally. The nuclear crisis of 1993 led to direct talks with the US and the signing of the Agreed Framework in 1994. This led to the establishment of KEDO (the Korean Energy Development Corporation) that is to provide the DPRK with light water reactors with a target date of 2003. Talks with the US continued after that but there were no other major developments until 2000.

2000 started with the DPRK establishing diplomatic relations with Italy, the first G7 country to have such relations, on 5 January. On 8 May 2000, diplomatic relations with Australia were restored and in preparation for participation in an ARF meeting, relations with the Philippines were also established on 12 July. In September, the DPRK Foreign Minister wrote to his counterparts in EU countries about opening diplomatic relations with the DPRK. While formal ties have been opened between DPRK and a number of countries, the DPRK's relations with the outside world are limited by the slow progress of reconciliation with the South, evidence of nuclear and missile proliferation, and a very poor record on human rights.

DPRK's relations with the USA

As there was relatively little progress in the Four-Party Talks and continued concern about the Korean situation, the US undertook a review of its DPRK policy. The resulting Perry Report, issued in August 1999, presented a step-by-step process through which relations could be developed. Contact developed at a number of levels and, with the progress seen in North-South relations towards the end of the Clinton Presidency, DPRK-US relations warmed. In October 2000, Secretary of State Albright visited Pyongyang and Jo Myong Rok, the DPRK's top uniformed officer, visited Washington. In bilateral talks, the DPRK renounced terrorism and the two sides seemed to be on the verge of concluding an agreement on missiles. This could have cleared the way for a visit to Pyongyang by President Clinton but no agreement was reached before the end of his time in office. The Bush administration decided to review DPRK policy and, while the review was taking place, the DPRK started to take a more hostile line towards the US.

The results of the US policy review were released in early June 2001. The Bush Administration maintained a line quite close to the Clinton's and proposed a resumption of talks. It also listed its main objectives as improved implementation of the Agreed Framework, verifiable constraints on DPRK missile programmes and a ban on DPRK missile exports, and a reduction of the conventional military threat. The DPRK media soon indicated a rejection of the US 'conditional' offer of talks but the US is still waiting for a formal response to its proposals. The US war against terrorism and its designation of the DPRK as a terrorist-supporting state highlighted another point of issue for the two sides. The DPRK reaffirmed its condemnation of terrorism after 11 September and has since agreed to sign and ratify International Conventions on the Suppression and Financing of Terrorism, and Hostage-taking. Sinbce early 2002, the US has expressed its concern about DPRK development of weapons of mass destruction, describing it as part of an 'Axis of Evil' and drug trafficking. The DPRK has rejected the US charges. Despite the apparent rift between the two sides, the US has continued to provide humanitarian assistance to the DPRK and, since April, there have been indications that the two sides will re-engage although there is no definite timetable yet.

DPRK's relations with China/Russia/Japan

The DPRK also managed to mend fences with its old regional allies. A new treaty of friendship and co-operation with Russia was signed in February 2000 and, in July, President Putin made the first ever visit to the DPRK by a Russian/Soviet head of state. As for China, Kim Jong Il visited Beijing in May 2000. He made another visit to Beijing and Shanghai in January 2001. High-level contacts have continued with Kim Jong Il making a 24-day visit to Russia in July-August and Jiang Zemin visiting the DPRK on 3-5 September.

There has been no progress in relations with Japan. The two countries did resume normalisation talks but, with the DPRK demanding Japanese apologies and compensation for the colonial period and Japan demanding information on Japanese citizens allegedly 'abducted' by the DPRK, these bogged down almost immediately. However, in October 2000, Japan still committed itself to providing 500,000 tons of rice to the DPRK in response to a World Food Programme appeal and this made it the top donor of food aid to the DPRK. In late 2001, Japanese police investigations into fraud in DPRK-related credit unions and Japanese Coast Guard actions against a suspicious ship, that Japan claims came from the DPRK, led to a further cooling of relations. At the end of 2001, the DPRK announced that it had stopped investigating the 'missing' Japanese issue but, with the emergence of yet another alleged case, the Japanese started to press harder than ever for progress. The DPRK responded by agreeing to Red Cross talks, dealing with 'missing' Japanese and DPRK nationals, at the end of April and there are even suggestions that formal normalisation talks will start again soon.

DPRK's relations with the EU

Eight EU members, and the European Communities, have established diplomatic relations with the DPRK since January 2000 and only France and Ireland do not have such relations. The Swedish Prime Minister, who held the Presidency of the EU, Mr Persson, the EU High Representative Javier Solana and Commissioner Chris Patten visited the DPRK on 2-3 May 2001. The visit achieved its stated objectives of having extensive talks with Kim Jong Il, getting DPRK commitment to a second Inter-Korean Summit, and holding discussions on issues such as human rights, missiles and economic reform. During the visit, the DPRK also reaffirmed its moratorium on missile testing until 2003.

In November 2000 the EU adopted agreed lines of action towards the DPRK. These stated that the EU's relations, and those of its Member States, with the DPRK would take into account: continuation by the DPRK of the rapprochement begun with the ROK; responsible behaviour with regard to nuclear and ballistic non-proliferation; developments in the human rights situation, in particular observance of the UN Pacts on human rights; and access by the population to external aid, including satisfactory working conditions for foreign NGOs active in the DPRK.

DPRK's relations with the UK

Britain and the DPRK established diplomatic relations on 12 December 2000. The British decision was taken in the light of progress made in the DPRK-ROK dialogue. It was agreed to establish resident missions in each other's capital. Dr Jim Hoare has been appointed British Chargé d'Affaires in Pyongyang and Mr Ri Tae Gun, Counsellor at the DPRK Mission in Geneva, DPRK Chargé d'Affaires in to Britain.

Diplomatic Representation

North Korean representation in the UK
UK overseas mission in North Korea

David Slinn is Ambassador in Pyongyang. The British Embassy in Pyongyang opened on 31 July 2001. An Embassy of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea opened in London on 30 April. The DPRK Chargé d'Affaires to Britain is His Excellency Mr Ri Si Hong, appointed in November 2002.

Recent Visits

Since the establishment of diplomatic relations in December 2000, several high level DPRK delegations have visited the UK, including one led by Vice Foreign Minister Choe Su Hon in December 2001. A programme of training and study tours for DPRK officials has already begun, including English language training, and study tours at the Royal United Services Institute. The UK is also involved in some of the EU-led programmes, hosting a delegation led by the DPRK Trade Minister in March 2002.

Several Foreign and Commonwealth Office delegations have visited Pyongyang since December 2000 to meet Ministers and senior officials from the DPRK Ministry of Foreign Affairs. English language teachers and a management training team have been sent to the DPRK with FCO funding.


The DPRK has ratified the major UN Conventions, including the Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Prominent on the list of other covenants adopted are those related to genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, as well as the Convention on the Rights of the Child. Among those not ratified are conventions relating to slavery and trafficking in humans, and refugees and migration.

The DPRK fulfils its reporting obligations under the various conventions to which it has adhered, although normally with considerable delays. A national Human Rights Committee was established in 1992, but appears to function only sporadically. It is not independent from government.

Although a limited relaxation of controls has taken place in recent years due to the economic situation, treatment is harsh for those who transgress established norms. Information on these practices is anecdotal, coming mainly from defectors, and it is very difficult to accurately assess the numbers involved. But it seems likely that a very large number of individuals have suffered and are suffering from practices that represent extremely serious violations of their human rights.

The death penalty is reputedly in regular use but there is no authoritative information on the extent of its use. The penal code contains provisions for the death penalty for ill- defined crimes such as 'counter revolutionary activity'. There have been reports in foreign media of isolated instances of public executions, but foreigners have not been present.

Numerous reports exist of the use of torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading forms of treatment or punishment. Information by defectors also indicates that a system of forced labour camps is in operation. Conditions in these camps are extremely harsh and the mortality rate high. A further type of camps are focused on 'rehabilitation' and conditions are consequently less harsh, but still represent severe punishment by Western standards.

The government does not allow any independent domestic organisation to monitor human rights conditions. Requests for visits by international human rights organisations have been largely ignored. One visit by Amnesty International was allowed in 1996. The resulting report was regarded as hostile and Amnesty has not been able to visit again.

The recently expanded dialogue with the EU has included a human rights component. The DPRK government has, since the beginning of 2001, permitted a small number of officials to attend human rights courses abroad.


The DPRK has an extensive, free medical care system but the quality of care seems to have declined, with the economic decline in the 1990s. Because of this, and increasing levels of malnutrition, life expectancy has fallen sharply.


Travel Advice: North Korea


Customs and Dos and Don'ts

  • Koreans give a short bow or nod as a sign of respect when greeting or departing, although foreigners are usually greeted with a handshake.
  • When anything is handed over to or received from another person, including business cards, it is polite to use both hands. Card should be read and not immediately put away.
  • Only a few hundred surnames exist in Korea. Four names, Kim, Lee, Park and Choi account for about half of South Koreans. Most surnames are one syllable, while the given name is usually a two-syllable word separated by a hyphen in Roman script. The surname precedes the given name in Korean but may be transposed for the benefit of foreigners.
  • Chopsticks (usually metal) should never be placed upright in rice: this is only done at funerals.
  • In homes and traditional restaurants, shoes are removed and slippers worn.
  • The Korean word for 'four' is similar to that for death and considered unlucky. Many public buildings and all hospitals omit the fourth floor.
  • Names should never be written in red ink, a traditional symbol of death.


Korean Central News Agency
The People's Korea newspaper


How can I obtain a visa for the DPRK?

There is virtually no independent tourism in the DPRK; visas are normally only available if travelling as part of an organised tour group (although British officials have met British 'parties of one' in the DPRK). There is as yet no DPRK Embassy in London. Applications are handled through the DPRK Embassy in Beijing.

Last updated - 2 June 2003


* *