South Korea – After more than three years of strict lockdown, North Korea recently resumed holding high-level diplomatic talks and participating in international events. But just when diplomacy is expected to pick up pace, the country has begun closing some of its foreign missions.
North Korea’s government confirmed that it intends to withdraw from Uganda, Angola, Spain and Hong Kong, and the list is likely to grow. Japan’s Yomiuri newspaper reported that North Korea plans to close as many as a dozen diplomatic missions.
Experts point to economic difficulties from prolonged international sanctions and the pandemic-era lockdown as the primary reasons, but the closures also signal a possible change in North Korea’s foreign policy – one more focused on its relations with Moscow and Beijing.
Last month, local media in Uganda and Angola reported that North Korean embassies there would close. Uganda’s Independent quoted the North Korean ambassador Jong Tong Hak as saying that “North Korea has taken a strategic measure to reduce the number of embassies in Africa … in order to increase the efficiency of the country’s external institutions.”
North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency confirmed that ambassadors in the two African nations paid a “farewell visit” to respective presidents.
In Europe, Communist Party of the Peoples of Spain said it had been notified that the North Korean embassy in Madrid is closing due to its “inability to develop mutually beneficial relations with institutions, commercial and cultural entities” under U.S.-led sanctions.
And last week, the Chinese Foreign Ministry confirmed that North Korea’s consulate general in Hong Kong is shutting down, saying Beijing “respects” the decision.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry said of the closures that North Korea’s economy is struggling so much that “it cannot maintain even the minimum diplomatic relations with countries it is traditionally friendly with.”
Tae Yongho, the South Korean lawmaker with the ruling People Power Party who served as the North Korean deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom until his defection in 2016, said in a press conference last week that it is the first time North Korean foreign missions are closing in mass since the economic crisis in the 1990s that followed the fall of the Soviet Union.