North Korea. It seems to constantly be in the news, and at least in the Western world, it is rarely for anything positive. With so much negative press, it can be easy to get swept up in the reports, and rightfully so. According to many international organizations, human rights violations in North Korea are common, and at a level almost unparalleled anywhere else in the world.
However, when talking about North Korea, it is important to separate its government from the people and country itself. North Korea is actually a pretty beautiful country, with a long history that goes beyond the Kim dynasty. Where is North Korea and what all does it have to offer? Let’s find out.
Where is North Korea Located?
North Korea is a country in East Asia, located on the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Three countries border North Korea: China to the northwest along the Amnok River, Russia to the north along the Tumen River, and South Korea to the south, with the heavily fortified Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two.
Geography of North Korea
The majority of North Korea is made up of medium sized mountains. These ranges cover a large portion of the entire country, and are separated periodically by narrow valleys.
The highest peak found in North Korea is Mount Paektu, a volcano on the northern border next to China that rises a total of 9,003 feet. It has great cultural significance in Korea, and is considered sacred.
In the west, you’ll find wide coastal plains, as well as a handful of small islands that litter the western coastline. Along the Sea of Japan coastline, narrow plains rise quickly into mountains. North Korea has some amazing rivers as well, it’s longest being the Amnok, but also notable are the Tumen, Imjin, and Taedang.
The capital of North Korea, Pyongyang, is a major industrial and transport center near the west coast.
History of North Korea
According to Chinese records, literate societies on the Korean Peninsula began to appear as early as the 4th century BCE. Overtime, various kingdoms would form, eventually merging to create a common national identity. Most of the Korean Peninsula was unified by 668 AD. Korea reached its current boundaries during the Koryo Dynasty (918-1392), and the following Choson Dynasty (1392-1910) would help foster the further development of common cultural practices.
In 1910, Korea was annexed by Imperial Japan. However, when World War II ended in 1945, Japan lost all control over Korea to the Allies. Korea was therefore divided, with the Soviet Union overseeing the northern half, and the United States the other.
While intended to be temporary, the foreign governments presiding over North and South Korea could not come to a consensus for a Joint Trusteeship over Korea. This uncertainty led to the formation of two separate Korean governments in 1948. In the north was the Communist-aligned Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). In the south was the West-aligned Republic of Korea. Each claimed to be the legitimate government of all of Korea.
On June 25th, 1950, North Korea, which was backed by China and the Soviet Union, pushed into South Korea, and war broke out, devastating the region. To aid the South Koreans, the UN put together a force of some 21 countries, with the United States providing roughly 90% of the military personel.
Eventually, in 1953, the Korean Armistice Agreement was signed. This agreement was not a peace treaty, but did re-establish the 38th parallel as the dividing line between North and South Korea. The Korean Demilitarized Zone was also created, extending 1.25 miles in both directions.
After the War
Once fighting in the war had ended, Kim Il-sung, the Supreme Leader of North Korea, began to purge North Korea of what he considered to be enemies of the state. This included both actual enemies, and ones he had fabricated himself. By 1961, Kim’s opposition had all but disappeared.
In the 70’s, much of the world would face an economic downturn. Global oil prices rose as North Korea’s mining industry began to fizzle. The country would also find it increasingly difficult to keep up with changing economies, especially as the world began to shift towards computers and other technologies.
Despite all this, Kim Il-sung would develop a huge cult of personality, leading the country in accordance with the state ideology of Juche, translated in the West to mean “self-reliance.”
The collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991 would lead to a severe economic crisis in North Korea. In 1994, Kim Il-sung died suddenly of a heart attack, and his son, Kim Jong-il, took power. Under the new Kim’s rule, North Korea would suffer from famine, and an increasingly poor human rights record.
North Korea would also create international tension in their quest to obtain nuclear capabilities, which had begun in the late-1980s. Despite being repeatedly told to freeze this program, the country continued, often lying about its existence. However, in 2006, North Korea was ready to announce to the world it had successfully completed a nuclear test.
North Korea Today
Kim Jong-il died on December 17th, 2011, leaving his son Kim Jong-un in power. Kim Jong-un has more or less kept the course North Korea has been on, continuing to test nuclear weapons and defy orders to cease its actions. Today, the structure within North Korea has been compared to that of Stalinist Russia, with a large focus on military and industry.
What lies next for North Korea? Only time will tell as the world watches and waits to see what unfolds.