North Korea’s Shrinking Pool Of International Relations

November 21, 2017 Updated: November 23, 2017    

North Korea’s propaganda apparatus clings to each and every example that the isolated regime still maintains some friends in the outside world.

But the reality is more stark. While the regime did have ties throughout the communist world, it has found friends harder to hold on to as many of its former friends have abandoned Marxism.

As the U.S.-led campaign of “maximum pressure” continues, Kim Jong Un has found his communist dictatorship increasingly isolated.

One mark of how cut off the regime has become came when Air China announced this week that it had cancelled its route to North Korea due to lack of demand.

A North Korean restaurant worker tries to attract customers in the border city of Dandong, Liaoning province, northern China across the Yalu River from the border city of Sinuiju, North Korea on May 23, 2017 in Dandong, China. Reports from inside China reveal North Korean workers are being forced out of the country. (Kevin Frayer/Getty Images)

While China remains North Korea’s most critical trading partner, relations are fraught. A Chinese envoy returned from North Korea on Nov. 20, with no news or confirmation he met with Kim Jong Un, an unusual twist.

North Korea saw its already isolated position begin to worsen after its Sept. 3 nuclear test when several countries downgraded or broke off diplomatic ties. Spain, Kuwait, Peru, and Mexico ejected North Korea’s ambassadors while Egypt and Uganda broke off military ties.

The Philippines, one of North Korea’s few major trade partners, suspended trade.

Many other countries, like Canada, had already downgraded diplomatic ties with the regime and had sanctions in place prior to the nuclear test.

Russia has reportedly used the breakdown between North Korea and China to try to tighten relations with the Kim regime, which would make it one of the few countries doing so.

Singapore was North Korea’s seventh-largest trading partner, but it announced last week it would cut trade ties with the country.

North Korean women work at the assembly line of the factory of shoemaker Samduk Inc. at the Kaesong industrial complex in Kaesong, North Korea on Feb. 27, 2006. North Korean textile exports have plummeted since September. (photo by Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images)

Last week the State Department also announced Sudan had agreed to sever all trade and military ties with North Korea.

As the regime grows more isolated, it’s remaining ties become more meaningful.

Last week, the regime dispatched its foreign minister, Ri Yong Ho, to Cuba, according to the Korean Central News Agency.  

The rare diplomatic exchange made headlines for being one of the few overt examples of diplomatic relations between North Korea and another country.

While the connection gives North Korea some public support, the limited trade relationship with Cuba does little to resolve the regime’s pressing economic issues.

The regime has also maintained ties with Iran, a relationship that dates back to the 1980s. Iran and North Korea forged relations when the Kim regime supplied Iran with missiles while it was under an arms embargo.

A North Korean intermediate-range ballistic missile Hwasong-12 is shown prior to launch from a vehicle. (screenshot)

North Korea has other relationships with some African countries, but meaningful ties to countries it can trade with are gradually dissolving.

Some of North Korea’s longest standing relationships are with Bulgaria, Pakistan, and Malaysia.

Bulgaria, however, is also pursuing closer ties with South Korea and has publicly criticized North Korea’s nuclear program.

Pakistan has been an important arms customer of North Korea’s and reportedly bought long-range missiles from the Kim regime while offering civilian nuclear technology.

While details of the current relationship are hard to obtain, Pakistan issued a carefully worded statement maintaining that North Korea should comply with UN Security Council sanctions.

Kim Jong Nam, the eldest son of then North Korean leader Kim Jong Il and half brother to Kim Jong Un, seen before his assassination in February.  (AP Photo/Shizuo Kambayashi)

Malaysia, another nation North Korea had long standing ties with, also downgraded its relations with North Korea, withdrawing its ambassador and instituting a travel ban in September.

Pressure from the United States has pushed Malaysia to limit bilateral ties with North Korea, and the Kim regime’s presumed assassination of Kim’s estranged half-brother Kim Jong-nam at Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur International Airport in February also had an impact.

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