North Korea is poised to close as many as a dozen embassies including in Spain, Hong Kong, and multiple countries in Africa, according to media reports and analysts, in a move that could see nearly 25 percent of Pyongyang’s missions close worldwide.
North Korea’s recent closing of its diplomatic missions was a sign that the reclusive country is struggling to make money overseas because of international sanctions, South Korea’s unification ministry said on Tuesday.
On Monday, North Korean state media outlet KCNA said the country’s ambassadors paid “farewell” visits to Angolan and Ugandan leaders last week, and local media in both African countries reported the shutdown of the North’s embassies there.
Both Angola and Uganda have forged friendly ties with North Korea since the 1970s, maintaining military cooperation and providing rare sources of foreign currency such as statue-building projects.
The embassy closings set the stage for what could be “one of the country’s biggest foreign policy shakeups in decades”, with implications for diplomatic engagement, humanitarian work in the isolated country, as well as the ability to generate illicit revenue, wrote Chad O’Carroll, founder of the North Korea-focused website NK Pro.
More than a dozen missions may close, likely because of international sanctions, a trend of Pyongyang’s disengaging globally and the probable weakening of the North Korean economy, he said in a report on Wednesday.
Seoul’s unification ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said the pullout reflected the impact of international sanctions aimed at curbing funding for the North’s nuclear and missile programs.
“They appear to be withdrawing as their foreign currency earning business has stumbled due to the international community’s strengthening of sanctions, making it difficult to maintain the embassies any longer,” the ministry said in a statement. “This can be a sign of North Korea’s difficult economic situation, where it is difficult to maintain even minimal diplomatic relations with traditionally friendly countries.”
North Korea has formal relations with 159 countries, but had 53 diplomatic missions overseas, including three consulates and three representative offices, until it pulled out of Angola and Uganda, according to the ministry.
North Korea will also shut down its embassy in Spain, with its mission in Italy handling affairs in the neighbouring country, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported.
Correspondence with the Spanish Communist Party released on the party’s website showed the North Korean embassy announcing the closing in a letter dated Oct. 26.
The North’s embassy in Madrid was in the spotlight after members of a group seeking the overthrow of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un staged a break-in in 2019, during which they bound and gagged staff before driving off with computers and other devices.
Pyongyang denounced the incident as a “grave breach of sovereignty and terrorist attack,” and accused the United States of not investigating the group thoroughly and refusing to extradite its leader.