Not getting paid for Volvos no obstacle to Sweden’s ties with N. Korea
STOCKHOLM: Sweden has not yet been paid by North Korea for the hundreds of Volvo saloons it imported in the 1970s, and which can still be seen on the streets of the communist country.
While the deal was not the commercial success Sweden had hoped for, it serves as a reminder of its long involvement in North Korea. This raises the question of whether the country could use its special relationship to act as an intermediary in the nuclear crisis between North Korea and the United States.
Sweden had played a crucial diplomatic role with North Korea, most often seen when it acted on behalf of the West when Westerners got into trouble.
Sweden’s role in the release of Canadian pastor Hyeon Soo Lim this month and of US student Otto Warmbier earlier this year reflects historical connections that go back nearly half a century to the end of the Korean War, a legacy no other country in the West can match.
Sweden was the first Western European nation to establish diplomatic relations with the North in 1973, and the first to set up an embassy in Pyongyang in 1975. One diplomat said the relationship between Sweden and North Korea was mostly consular, not aimed at ways to find a solution to the nuclear crisis.
A source with knowledge of the matter said the US needed someone who could deal with consular issues and Sweden could do that with the consent of the North Koreans. But the source also made clear that Sweden’s role was not purely consular.
“Sweden has been able to share information with the major players in the region and we are still doing that. We have mainly acted as a source of information and made sure that information reaches the most important actors,” the source added.
As for the Volvos, they seem to be doing well more than 40 years on.
The Swedish embassy in Pyongyang last October tweeted a picture of one of the cars in use as a taxi in the city of Chongjin, with almost 500,000km on the clock, and “still unpaid for” by the North Koreans. Reuters