Last updated in September 2016
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. The Federal Republic of Germany and North Korea established diplomatic relations on 1 March 2001.
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.
In the wake of North Korea’s fourth and fifth nuclear weapons tests in January and September 2016 and the several rocket launches in the course of 2016, the various sanctions adopted – in particular by the United Nations and the European Union – in response to North Korea’s nuclear policy are also having a tangible effect on bilateral relations. Tougher sanctions can be expected following the most recent nuclear weapons and rocket tests.
Economy 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 11 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.
Culture and education
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.
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. 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.
Since the 1990s, Germans have no longer been allowed to study or pursue research in North Korea.
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.
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.
This text is intended as a source of basic information. It is regularly updated. No liability can be accepted for the accuracy or completeness of its contents.