Commies, collaborators maintain the friendship
Kim Yong-un’s rogue state has an eclectic bunch of supporters
North Korea is often portrayed as friendless. Naturally, those who are not brought up from birth to adore the hereditary communist ruling Kim family find it difficult to admire the regime as North Koreans are programmed to do.
But the country retains a surprising number of supporters. They come from three chief camps.
Firstly, other regimes, including a number in Africa, which have historically benefited, often existentially, from North Korean military support — in training, in supplying weapons, and in direct deployment of troops.
Secondly, nations that retain a residue of the former solidarity among communist regimes. Some of these are quietly cheering on Pyongyang as US President Donald Trump ramps up his rhetoric against it.
Thirdly, countries whose elites contain influential members who have gained financially from arrangements with Pyongyang.
While sternly unbending in its domestic administration, North Korea can be ingratiatingly flexible overseas in terms of money laundering, smuggling and every kind of nefarious practice more familiar in the world of organised crime.
North Korea — which calls itself the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, DPRK — retains formal diplomatic relations with 164 countries, including Australia.
The US, Japan, France, Israel, Saudi Arabia — angry with North Korea’s closeness with its core antagonist, Iran — and the Vatican, are prominent among the few countries that do not recognise it as a state.
Maintaining good relations with North Korea are Benin, Burundi, Cambodia, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Egypt, Equatorial Guinea, Ethiopia, the Gambia, Laos, Mozambique, Namibia, Nigeria, South Africa, Syria — which obtained its original Scud missiles from Pyongyang — and Tanzania and Uganda.
Bulgaria was until recently its best friend in Europe, but it has begun to implement UN sanctions and has asked it to reduce its diplomatic staff in the country.
When Cuban communist patriarch Fidel Castro died last year, North Korea declared a three-day mourning period and “Supreme Leader” Kim Jong-un visited the embassy to pay his respects.
Malaysia is where Kim chose to have his brother Kim Jingnam assassinated in February, an event seemingly orchestrated from the North Korean embassy. Two women, from Indonesia and Vietnam, have been charged with his murder.
North Koreans seemingly associated with the killing were freed to return home when Pyongyang grabbed Malaysians as hostages. The country is viewed as a handy base for illicit transhipments, financing and foreign exchange transactions.
North Korea has strongly backed the Palestine Liberation Organisation since 1966, lambasting Israel as “imperialist”.
Singapore has in the past had a wide range of relations with North Korea, including in business and in training, but has recently joined other nations in condemning Pyongyang’s continued missile and nuclear testing.
Zimbabwe’s ruler Robert Mugabe has retained strong affection for North Korea since he sent soldiers from his independence fighters there for training 40 years ago.
In 2013, the countries signed a deal to exchange uranium from Zimbabwe for North Korean weapons.