22.11.2023 Author: Konstantin Asmolov

What does it imply that the DPRK has closed several of its embassies?

DPRK has closed several of its embassies

Several embassies and consulates were closed by North Korea in late October and early November of 2023. On October 23, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary of the DPRK Chon Dong-hak “paid a farewell visit” to Yoweri Kaguta Museven, President of the Republic of Uganda, and on October 27, Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Jo Pyong Chol of the DPRK paid a similar farewell visit to President Joao Manuel Goncalves Lourenco of the Republic of Angola.

North Korea reportedly closed its embassy in Spain on November 1. A short while later, NKNews announced that the DPRK Ambassador to Nepal, Jo Yong Man, had informed the prime minister of Nepal that the embassy was closing because of the “ongoing recession and changing geopolitical environment.”

Furthermore, according to the Yomiuri Shimbun, North Korea intends to close its embassy in Hong Kong due mostly to financial concerns. According to Reuters, the DPRK plans to close nearly a dozen diplomatic missions in Africa and other parts of the world.

In all cases, the KCNA avoided mentioning the reasons for the relocation, instead emphasizing the two nations’ cordial relations, especially as the closing of the embassy did not imply terminating diplomatic relations or reducing their status for political reasons. However, the DPRK’s history with these countries is rather intriguing.

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) maintained communication with the governments of Idi Amin and his successors in Uganda, providing support for their efforts to quell the Museveni rebels in the 1980s and to Yoweri Museveni upon his ascension to power. It is alleged that there is a Kim Il Sung Square in Uganda’s capital, Kampala.

The DPRK has been training Uganda’s soldiers and police as well as selling it weapons since 1971 and even in 2017, military instructors remained there. President Museveni Muhoozi Kainerugaba was one of 12 Ugandan officials on a six-month trip to the DPRK in 2004.

North Korea established diplomatic ties with Angola in 1975 and reopened its mission in 2013 after it was closed for unknown reasons in 1998. Close relations still exist between the two nations, and former president of Angola Jose Eduardo dos Santos made three trips to Pyongyang. Members of the presidential guard were trained in martial arts by Northern instructors until 2017. In 1984, the first contingent of 3,000 military advisers arrived, allegedly engaging in combat as well. Angola was also well-known for being one of the African nations to whom the North transported laborers in exchange for dollars and supplied art objects – bronze statues.

However, according to an implementation report provided to the UN Security Council’s Sanctions Committee, in November 2017, Angola asked the workers to leave the country under UN sanctions against Pyongyang and terminated all of its contracts with the North Korean construction business Mansudae Angola. Furthermore, Uganda and Angola supported a resolution denouncing North Korea’s six nuclear tests.

The reversal is thought to have occurred after South Korean President Park Geun-hye visited African countries and made extensive efforts to refocus them toward cooperation with the ROK.

North Korea built a representative office in Spain in 2013 after establishing diplomatic ties with the country in 2001. Kim Hyok-chol, the first ambassador, was appointed in 2014 but was dismissed in 2017 as a persona non grata following Pyongyang’s nuclear tests and missile launches.

Members of the anti-Pyongyang Free Joseon group invaded the embassy in 2019 and were accused of beating diplomatic officials and taking laptops and papers. The group that eventually claimed responsibility for the raid stated that the seized materials were shared with the FBI.

Relationships between North Korea and Nepal began in 1970 when they inked a bilateral trade deal. The DPRK opened its embassy in Kathmandu the same year they formally established diplomatic relations. However, Nepal never established an embassy in North Korea.

North Korea maintained diplomatic ties with 159 countries as of October 2023, and among them were 53 diplomatic missions, comprising 47 embassies, 3 consulates, and 3 representative offices. There will be less now, as the ROK will be increasing its diplomatic reach in 12 nations by 2024: the Marshall Islands; Africa’s Botswana, Sierra Leone, and Zambia: Central and South America’s Suriname and Jamaica; Europe’s Estonia, Luxembourg, Lithuania, and Slovenia; and Armenia and Georgia.
In accordance with the principle of reciprocity, embassy branches will be turned into embassies somewhere, and new South Korean embassies will be created somewhere. This brings the overall number of South Korean diplomatic missions throughout the world to 177, with 192 nations having diplomatic relations with South Korea.

Seoul attempts to “lighten up” as a result of this difference. As a result, the embassy closures, according to South Korean authorities, “came as the secretive regime faced increasing difficulties in obtaining foreign currency amid lingering economic problems caused by UN sanctions over Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.” On the condition of anonymity, a reunification ministry official told reporters that “North Korea’s recent move to close its diplomatic missions in Angola and Uganda is an apparent sign of its faltering economy worsened by global sanctions.” Especially because, according to several North Korean diplomats who have fled to the South, the North’s diplomatic missions are extracting funding for operations through illicit trade and commercial activities and sending remittances back home, rather than receiving funds from Pyongyang.

Former North Korean diplomats Ryu Hyun-woo and Tae Yong-ho told NK News that the embassies are closing due to the DPRK’s weak economy and tough UN sanctions, which make it difficult for diplomatic missions to produce illegal income. The DPRK’s current financial situation, according to Russian-speaking scholar Andrei Lankov, a professor at Kookmin University and the director of Korea Risk Group, is not particularly bad, and he suspects that “North Korea is reverting to the foreign policy of the 1960s, ‘the heyday of Kim Il-sung’s national Stalinism,'” when the country was more closed to the outside world.

The DPRK’s measures to dismantle diplomatic missions are intended to effectively reorganize its diplomatic capabilities, according to the DPRK. “We are conducting operations to withdraw and establish diplomatic missions in accordance with the changed global environment and national diplomatic policy,” said a spokesman for the North Korean foreign ministry. They did not identify which nations would be affected by the proposal but stated that it was part of a sovereign country’s normal actions to reorganize and manage its diplomatic capacities in the national interest.

This viewpoint should also be considered, especially considering that the DPRK is beginning to open up to the rest of the world, which necessitates a rotation of the diplomatic corps, including the reduction of diplomatic presence where there is no need to preserve the country’s interests at such a high level. especially considering that one can still be in the nation without an embassy. Other means of keeping oneself visible on the ground include honorary consulates, “solidarity groups,” and “societies for the study of Juche ideas.”

However, the 2023 closing of North Korea’s embassies in Africa turned out to be a common practice. A fortnight before to the DPRK embassy’s closure in Uganda, the Norwegian embassy in that same nation announced its closure, citing “ongoing structural reforms”. “Norway is currently undertaking structural reforms of the diplomatic service,” reads an embassy statement. The diplomatic presence overseas is changing as part of the reform process. It is anticipated that concentration and consolidation will strengthen Norway’s international engagement and better serve its domestic interests. This implies that Norway is increasing its footprint in specific areas. This means that there will need to be unpleasant cuts made elsewhere.” In July 2023, five (5) Norwegian embassies abroad were shut down concurrently.

The Danish embassy in Dar es Salaam is also closing in 2024. With the conclusion of the pandemic, a lock is currently being placed on the door of the Danish embassy in Tanzania, which was announced to close in August 2021. Tanzania is the first African nation with which Denmark has a “long-standing development partnership”.

Where the DPRK will launch fresh missions is more intriguing from this angle. Rumors suggest that general consulates may be located in newly established Russian cities, but this is just one possibility.
Above all, the process of closing embassies does not always indicate a collapse in the regime.


Konstantin Asmolov, Candidate of Historical Sciences, Leading research fellow of the Center for Korean Studies at the Institute of China and Modern Asia of the Russian Academy of Sciences, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.

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