East & Southeast Asia :: Korea, North

Introduction ::Korea, North

    An independent kingdom for much of its long history, Korea was occupied by Japan beginning in 1905 following the Russo-Japanese War. Five years later, Japan formally annexed the entire peninsula. Following World War II, Korea was split with the northern half coming under Soviet-sponsored communist control. After failing in the Korean War (1950-53) to conquer the US-backed Republic of Korea (ROK) in the southern portion by force, North Korea (DPRK), under its founder President KIM Il Sung, adopted a policy of ostensible diplomatic and economic "self-reliance" as a check against outside influence. The DPRK demonized the US as the ultimate threat to its social system through state-funded propaganda, and molded political, economic, and military policies around the core ideological objective of eventual unification of Korea under Pyongyang's control. KIM Il Sung's son, KIM Jong Il, was officially designated as his father's successor in 1980, assuming a growing political and managerial role until the elder KIM's death in 1994. KIM Jong Un was publicly unveiled as his father's successor in September 2010. Following KIM Jong Il's death in December 2011, the regime began to take actions to transfer power to KIM Jong Un and KIM has now assumed many his father's former titles and duties. After decades of economic mismanagement and resource misallocation, the DPRK since the mid-1990s has relied heavily on international aid to feed its population. The DPRK began to ease restrictions to allow semi-private markets, starting in 2002, but then sought to roll back the scale of economic reforms in 2005 and 2009. North Korea's history of regional military provocations; proliferation of military-related items; long-range missile development; WMD programs including tests of nuclear devices in 2006, 2009, and 2013; and massive conventional armed forces are of major concern to the international community.

Geography ::Korea, North

    Eastern Asia, northern half of the Korean Peninsula bordering the Korea Bay and the Sea of Japan, between China and South Korea
    40 00 N, 127 00 E
    total: 120,538 sq km
    country comparison to the world: 99
    land: 120,408 sq km
    water: 130 sq km
    slightly smaller than Mississippi
    total: 1,671.5 km
    border countries: China 1,416 km, South Korea 238 km, Russia 17.5 km
    2,495 km
    territorial sea: 12 nm
    exclusive economic zone: 200 nm
    note: military boundary line 50 nm in the Sea of Japan and the exclusive economic zone limit in the Yellow Sea where all foreign vessels and aircraft without permission are banned
    temperate with rainfall concentrated in summer
    mostly hills and mountains separated by deep, narrow valleys; coastal plains wide in west, discontinuous in east
    lowest point: Sea of Japan 0 m
    highest point: Paektu-san 2,744 m
    coal, lead, tungsten, zinc, graphite, magnesite, iron ore, copper, gold, pyrites, salt, fluorspar, hydropower
    arable land: 19.08%
    permanent crops: 1.7%
    other: 79.22% (2011)
    14,600 sq km (2003)
    77.15 cu km (2011)
    total: 8.66 cu km/yr (10%/13%/76%)
    per capita: 360.6 cu m/yr (2005)
    late spring droughts often followed by severe flooding; occasional typhoons during the early fall
    volcanism: Changbaishan (elev. 2,744 m) (also known as Baitoushan, Baegdu or P'aektu-san), on the Chinese border, is considered historically active
    water pollution; inadequate supplies of potable water; waterborne disease; deforestation; soil erosion and degradation
    party to: Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution
    signed, but not ratified: Law of the Sea
    strategic location bordering China, South Korea, and Russia; mountainous interior is isolated and sparsely populated

People and Society ::Korea, North

Government ::Korea, North

    conventional long form: Democratic People's Republic of Korea
    conventional short form: North Korea
    local long form: Choson-minjujuui-inmin-konghwaguk
    local short form: Choson
    abbreviation: DPRK
    Communist state one-man dictatorship
    name: Pyongyang
    geographic coordinates: 39 01 N, 125 45 E
    time difference: UTC+9 (14 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
    9 provinces (do, singular and plural) and 2 municipalities (si, singular and plural)
    provinces: Chagang-do (Chagang), Hamgyong-bukto (North Hamgyong), Hamgyong-namdo (South Hamgyong), Hwanghae-bukto (North Hwanghae), Hwanghae-namdo (South Hwanghae), Kangwon-do (Kangwon), P'yongan-bukto (North P'yongan), P'yongan-namdo (South P'yongan), Yanggang-do (Yanggang)
    municipalities: Nason-si, P'yongyang-si (Pyongyang)
    15 August 1945 (from Japan)
    Founding of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), 9 September (1948)
    adopted 1948; revised several times
    civil law system based on the Prussian model; system influenced by Japanese traditions and Communist legal theory
    has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; non-party state to the ICCt
    17 years of age; universal
    chief of state: KIM Jong Un (since 17 December 2011); note - the rubberstamp Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) reelected KIM Yong Nam in 2009 president of its Presidium with responsibility of representing state and receiving diplomatic credentials
    head of government: Premier PAK Pong-ju (since 2 April 2013); Vice Premiers: HAN Kwang Bok (since 7 June 2010), JO Pyong Ju (since 7 June 2010), JON Ha Chol (since 7 June 2010), KANG Nung Su (since 7 June 2010), KANG Sok Ju (since 23 September 2010), KIM In Sik (since 13 April 2012), KIM Rak Hui (since 7 June 2010), KIM Yong Jin (since 6 January 2012), PAK Su Gil (since 18 September 2009), RI Chol Man (since 13 April 2012), RI Mu Yong (since 31 May 2011), RI Sung Ho (since 13 April 2012), RO Tu Chol (since 3 September 2003)
    cabinet: Naegak (cabinet) members, except for Minister of People's Armed Forces, are appointed by SPA
    (For more information visit the World Leaders website Opens in New Window)
    elections: last election held in April 2012; date of next election NA
    election results: KIM Jong Un elected unopposed
    unicameral Supreme People's Assembly or Ch'oego Inmin Hoeui (687 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms)
    elections: last held on 8 March 2009 (next to be held in March 2014)
    election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - NA; ruling party approves a list of candidates who are elected without opposition; a token number of seats are reserved for minor parties
    highest court(s): Supreme Court or Central Court (consists of the chief justice and two "People's Assessors" and for some cases, 3 judges)
    judge selection and term of office: judges elected by the Supreme People's Assembly for 5-year terms
    subordinate courts: provincial, municipal, military, special courts; people' courts (lowest level)
    major party:
    Korean Workers' Party or KWP [KIM Jong Un]
    minor parties:
    Chondoist Chongu Party [RYU Mi Yong] (under KWP control)
    Social Democratic Party [KIM Yong Dae] (under KWP control)
    none; North Korea has a Permanent Mission to the UN in New York
    none; note - Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang represents the US as consular protecting power
    three horizontal bands of blue (top), red (triple width), and blue; the red band is edged in white; on the hoist side of the red band is a white disk with a red five-pointed star; the broad red band symbolizes revolutionary traditions; the narrow white bands stands for purity, strength, and dignity; the blue bands signify sovereignty, peace, and friendship; the red star represents socialism
    red star
    name: "Aegukka" (Patriotic Song)
    lyrics/music: PAK Se Yong/KIM Won Gyun
    note: adopted 1947; both North Korea and South Korea's anthems share the same name and have a vaguely similar melody but have different lyrics; the North Korean anthem is also known as "Ach'imun pinnara" (Let Morning Shine)

Economy ::Korea, North

    North Korea, one of the world's most centrally directed and least open economies, faces chronic economic problems. Industrial capital stock is nearly beyond repair as a result of years of underinvestment, shortages of spare parts, and poor maintenance. Large-scale military spending draws off resources needed for investment and civilian consumption. Industrial and power output have stagnated for years at a fraction of pre-1990 levels. Frequent weather-related crop failures aggravated chronic food shortages caused by on-going systemic problems, including a lack of arable land, collective farming practices, poor soil quality, insufficient fertilization, and persistent shortages of tractors and fuel. Large-scale international food aid deliveries as well as aid from China has allowed the people of North Korea to escape widespread starvation since famine threatened in 1995, but the population continues to suffer from prolonged malnutrition and poor living conditions. Since 2002, the government has allowed private "farmers' markets" to begin selling a wider range of goods. It also permitted some private farming - on an experimental basis - in an effort to boost agricultural output. In December 2009, North Korea carried out a redenomination of its currency, capping the amount of North Korean won that could be exchanged for the new notes, and limiting the exchange to a one-week window. A concurrent crackdown on markets and foreign currency use yielded severe shortages and inflation, forcing Pyongyang to ease the restrictions by February 2010. In response to the sinking of the South Korean destroyer Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island, South Korea's government cut off most aid, trade, and bilateral cooperation activities, with the exception of operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex. In 2012, KIM Jong Un's first year of leadership, the North displayed increased focus on the economy by renewing its commitment to special economic zones with China, negotiating a new payment structure to settle its $11 billion Soviet-era debt to Russia, and purportedly proposing new agricultural and industrial policies to boost domestic production. The North Korean government often highlights its goal of becoming a "strong and prosperous" nation and attracting foreign investment, a key factor for improving the overall standard of living. Nevertheless, firm political control remains the government's overriding concern, which likely will inhibit fundamental reforms of North Korea's current economic system.
    $40 billion (2011 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 104
    $40 billion (2010 est.)
    $40 billion (2009 est.)
    note: data are in 2011 US dollars;
    North Korea does not publish reliable National Income Accounts data; the data shown here are derived from purchasing power parity (PPP) GDP estimates for North Korea that were made by Angus MADDISON in a study conducted for the OECD; his figure for 1999 was extrapolated to 2011 using estimated real growth rates for North Korea's GDP and an inflation factor based on the US GDP deflator; the results were rounded to the nearest $10 billion.
    $28 billion (2009 est.)
    0.8% (2011 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 168
    -0.5% (2010 est.)
    -0.9% (2009 est.)
    $1,800 (2011 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 197
    $1,800 (2010 est.)
    $1,900 (2009 est.)
    note: data are in 2011 US dollars
    agriculture: 23.3%
    industry: 42.9%
    services: 33.8% (2012 est.)
    rice, corn, potatoes, soybeans, pulses; cattle, pigs, pork, eggs
    military products; machine building, electric power, chemicals; mining (coal, iron ore, limestone, magnesite, graphite, copper, zinc, lead, and precious metals), metallurgy; textiles, food processing; tourism
    12.2 million
    country comparison to the world: 43
    note: estimates vary widely (2009 est.)
    agriculture: 35%
    industry and services: 65% (2008 est.)
    lowest 10%: NA%
    highest 10%: NA%
    revenues: $3.2 billion
    expenditures: $3.3 billion (2007 est.)
    11.4% of GDP
    country comparison to the world: 205
    note: excludes earnings from state-operated enterprises (2007 est.)
    -0.4% of GDP (2007 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 55
    calendar year
    $4.707 billion (2011)
    country comparison to the world: 114
    $3.704 billion (2011 est.)
    minerals, metallurgical products, manufactures (including armaments), textiles, agricultural and fishery products
    China 67.2%, South Korea 19.4%, India 3.6% (2011 est.)
    $4.33 billion (2011 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 135
    $2.934 billion (2010 est.)
    petroleum, coking coal, machinery and equipment, textiles, grain
    China 61.6%, South Korea 20%, European Union 4% (2011 est.)
    $12.5 billion (2001 est.)
    country comparison to the world: 96
    North Korean won (KPW) per US dollar (market rate)
    155.5 (2012 est.)
    156.1 (2011 est.)
    145 (2010 est.)
    3,630 (December 2008)
    140 (2007)

Energy ::Korea, North

Communications ::Korea, North

    1.18 million (2011)
    country comparison to the world: 71
    1 million (2011)
    country comparison to the world: 155
    general assessment: adequate system; nationwide fiber-optic network; mobile-cellular service expanding beyond Pyongyang
    domestic: fiber-optic links installed down to the county level; telephone directories unavailable; GSM mobile-cellular service initiated in 2002 but suspended in 2004; Orascom Telecom Holding, an Egyptian company, launched W-CDMA mobile service on 15 December 2008 for the Pyongyang area, has expanded service to several large cities and now has a 1-million-person subscriber base
    international: country code - 850; satellite earth stations - 2 (1 Intelsat - Indian Ocean, 1 Russian - Indian Ocean region); other international connections through Moscow and Beijing (2011)
    no independent media; radios and TVs are pre-tuned to government stations; 4 government-owned TV stations; the Korean Workers' Party owns and operates the Korean Central Broadcasting Station, and the state-run Voice of Korea operates an external broadcast service; the government prohibits listening to and jams foreign broadcasts (2008)
    8 (2012)
    country comparison to the world: 226

Transportation ::Korea, North

    82 (2013)
    country comparison to the world: 67
    total: 39
    over 3,047 m: 3
    2,438 to 3,047 m: 22
    1,524 to 2,437 m: 8
    914 to 1,523 m: 2
    under 914 m: 4 (2013)
    total: 43
    2,438 to 3,047 m: 3
    1,524 to 2,437 m: 17
    914 to 1,523 m: 15
    under 914 m:
    8 (2013)
    23 (2013)
    oil 6 km (2013)
    total: 5,242 km
    country comparison to the world: 33
    standard gauge: 5,242 km 1.435-m gauge (3,500 km electrified) (2009)
    total: 25,554 km
    country comparison to the world: 101
    paved: 724 km
    unpaved: 24,830 km (2006)
    2,250 km (most navigable only by small craft) (2011)
    country comparison to the world: 38
    total: 158
    country comparison to the world: 37
    by type: bulk carrier 6, cargo 131, carrier 1, chemical tanker 1, container 4, passenger/cargo 1, petroleum tanker 12, refrigerated cargo 2
    foreign-owned: 13 (Belgium 1, China 3, Nigeria 1, Singapore 1, South Korea 1, Syria 4, UAE 2)
    registered in other countries: 6 (Mongolia 1, Sierra Leone 2, unknown 3) (2010)
    Ch'ongjin, Haeju, Hungnam (Hamhung), Namp'o, Senbong, Songnim, Sonbong (formerly Unggi), Wonsan

Military ::Korea, North

Transnational Issues ::Korea, North

    risking arrest, imprisonment, and deportation, tens of thousands of North Koreans cross into China to escape famine, economic privation, and political oppression; North Korea and China dispute the sovereignty of certain islands in Yalu and Tumen rivers; Military Demarcation Line within the 4-km-wide Demilitarized Zone has separated North from South Korea since 1953; periodic incidents in the Yellow Sea with South Korea which claims the Northern Limiting Line as a maritime boundary; North Korea supports South Korea in rejecting Japan's claim to Liancourt Rocks (Tok-do/Take-shima)
    IDPs: undetermined (periodic flooding and famine during mid-1990s) (2007)
    current situation: North Korea is a source country for men, women, and children who are subjected to forced labor, forced marriage, and sex trafficking; in the recent past, many North Korean women and girls lured by promises of food, jobs, and freedom migrated to China illegally to escape poor social and economic conditions only to be forced into prostitution, marriage, or exploitative labor arrangements; North Koreans do not have a choice in the work the government assigns them and are not free to change jobs at will; many North Korean workers recruited to work abroad under bilateral contracts with foreign governments are subjected to forced labor and reportedly face government reprisals if they try to escape or complain to outsiders; thousands of North Koreans, including children, are subjected to forced labor in prison camps
    tier rating: Tier 3 - North Korea does not fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; the government has conducted no known investigations, prosecutions, or convictions of trafficking offenders or officials complicit in forced labor or forced prostitution; the government also has reported no efforts to identify or assist trafficking victims and continues to deny human trafficking is a problem; authorities provide no discernible protection services to trafficking victims and does not permit NGOs to assist victims (2013)
    for years, from the 1970s into the 2000s, citizens of the Democratic People's Republic of (North) Korea (DPRK), many of them diplomatic employees of the government, were apprehended abroad while trafficking in narcotics, including two in Turkey in December 2004; police investigations in Taiwan and Japan in recent years have linked North Korea to large illicit shipments of heroin and methamphetamine, including an attempt by the North Korean merchant ship Pong Su to deliver 150 kg of heroin to Australia in April 2003