Korea (Democratic People's Republic of)
Last updated in April 2015
Political relations between Germany and North Korea date back to the period immediately after the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea was founded on 9 September 1948.
The former German Democratic Republic (GDR) maintained diplomatic relations with North Korea from 1949 onwards and was one of the country’s most important partners in the Eastern bloc. Following German reunification, a mission representing the interests of the Federal Republic of Germany was initially opened on the premises of the former GDR Embassy in Pyongyang, with Sweden acting as protecting power. At the same time, the former North Korean Embassy in East Berlin was turned into an Office for the Protection of the Interests of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, with the People’s Republic of China acting as protecting power.
Germany and North Korea established diplomatic relations on 1 March 2001. According to the agreement reached in this connection, diplomatic relations are aimed at securing the non-proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, advancing inner-Korean dialogue and improving the human rights situation in North Korea.
Under the EU’s Common Foreign and Security Policy as well as in bilateral relations, Germany is trying to get North Korea to resume the six-party talks on ending its nuclear weapons programme. At the same time, Germany is endeavouring to induce North Korea to enter into dialogue with the international community on the human rights situation in the country.
Political relations between Germany and North Korea continue to be coloured by misgivings about North Korea’s third nuclear weapons test in February 2013 and its plan to conduct a fourth nuclear weapons test announced on 31 March 2014, the two (failed) rocket launches in April and the (successful) launch in December 2012 as well as the military incidents in 2010. In addition, North Korea’s announcement during the crisis in spring 2013 that in the increasingly likely case of a thermonuclear war against the United States it would be unable to guarantee the safety of foreign missions, including the German mission, was not a move designed to help build trust.
The various sanctions adopted – in particular by the United Nations and the European Union – in response to North Korea’s nuclear policy also have a marked impact on bilateral relations.
Economic relations and development cooperation
Germany is not engaged in bilateral development cooperation with North Korea. Humanitarian aid has played an important role in bilateral relations in recent years, but this was terminated by the North Korean government in 2006. Since then, assistance has continued in the form of development-oriented emergency and transitional aid under the umbrella of the EU. German Agro Action is one of the main humanitarian organisations active in North Korea. Bread for the World, Caritas and the German Red Cross have also conducted a number of German-funded projects.
Since the establishment of diplomatic relations, there have so far been no visits to North Korea by German government delegations at ministerial level or trips to Germany by North Korean government ministers (except for the visit by then Physical Culture and Sports Minister Pak Myong Chol, who travelled to Germany in June 2011 to attend the opening match of the FIFA Women’s World Cup). However, there have been several official visits to North Korea by members of the German Bundestag.
Trade between Germany and North Korea has fallen by nearly a half in just a few years. It now stands at a very low level: approximately EUR 21.6 million a year. Germany’s principal imports from North Korea are textiles. Its main exports to North Korea are pharmaceutical products. No bilateral agreements have yet been concluded on economic, financial or scientific and technological cooperation.
The North Korean side shows some interest in German culture, mainly in classical music, films and literature, but cultural and education work is highly restricted by the requirement that official permission be obtained for any activities and by prior censorship.
There is a German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) lecturer working at the Kim Il Sung University in Pyongyang. In recent years, a number of North Korean academics have been able to spend several months in Germany as guest researchers. In view of the UN sanctions regime, however, Germany does not currently host visits by scientists or engineers. In 2014, a ten-member group of students and their lecturers were able to undertake a two-week trip to Germany.
Since the 1990s, Germans have no longer been allowed to study or pursue research in North Korea.
For a number of years now, a programme has been in place that enables German-speaking North Korean doctors to receive further training in German hospitals.
In the area of civic education, the major players are the German political foundations with offices in Seoul (the Friedrich Ebert Foundation, the Friedrich Naumann Foundation, the Hanns Seidel Foundation and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation). Their representatives visit Pyongyang at regular intervals and offer a variety of dialogue programmes in Germany and North Korea. In 2010 and 2011, it proved possible – for the first time since diplomatic relations were established with North Korea – to organise German Days featuring lectures, film screenings and exhibitions for a selected public of around 100 visitors per event. Political tensions following the unsuccessful rocket launch on 13 April 2012 led to the event being cancelled in 2012.
At the biennial Pyongyang International Film Festival, German films have recently won the top prizes: Lessons of a Dream in 2012 and My Beautiful Country in 2014. In 2013, the Goethe Institute in Seoul also organised a German Film Week for the first time, which featured five German films presented at a total of 17 screenings, reaching an audience of several thousand North Koreans. As in 2012, in 2014 the German Embassy took part in the biennial Pyongyang International Science and Technology Book Fair.