Workers’ Party Directive Instructs Diplomats to Gain Chinese Recognition of North Korea as a Nuclear Power

Kim Jong Un at the 9th Session of the 14th Supreme People’s Assembly in Pyongyang in Sept. 2023. Image via KCTV

SEOUL – With its confidence boosted by recently strengthened ties with Russia, North Korea is setting its sights on recognition by China of its status as a nuclear power.

Pyongyang last month issued instructions to its diplomats overseas that underscored the need for them to be proud of the new standing of the country as they pursue this goal.

The instructions were issued on January 19, according to a North Korean official in China. They came in a directive from the International Affairs Department of the ruling Workers’ Party’s to the party’s international relations committees in the ministries of Foreign Affairs and External Economic Relations, and in other relevant bodies.

The directive – “On Developing Foreign Relations in Accordance with the Enhanced International Status and Stature of the DPRK” – follows the strategic decision by Kim Jong Un announced in December to drop the national objective of Korean unification and see South Korea with new eyes as the “No.1 hostile country and implacable enemy.” North Korea has been committed to re-unification since the division in 1948 and North Koreans have been indoctrinated to see southerners as fellow Koreans who were oppressed and in need of liberation.

Diplomats and other officials involved in overseas relations “should have self-awareness and pride as citizens of a nuclear state and establish new foreign relations in that spirit,” the directive said.

It hailed Kim Jong Un’s visit to Russia in September 2023 as a “great victory” and an “immortal achievement” that raised the country’s international standing.

The key task now, the directive said, is to put relations with the strategic allies, China and Russia, on a new footing. 

But first and foremost, it said, North Koreans must be on guard against great power chauvinism and shake off the “illness of submission and dependence.” This phrase from the North’s political lexicon refers to the historically unequal nature of relations with China and Russia as those of great power and vassal state, with North Korea serving as a buffer against the United States. 

The directive said that this traditional relationship is reflected in current mutual defense treaties, diplomatic documents, and economic cooperation agreements with China and Russia and that it is therefore necessary to work to revise and update them.

While the emphasis may be new, North Korea has been moving in this direction for some time. North Korean officials in China say that Kim Jong Un proposed to Xi Jinping during his January 2019 visit to Beijing and again during Xi’s visit to Pyongyang that June that the two countries sign a new military cooperation and mutual defense treaty that covers strategic weapons. The Chinese have so far held off responding to avoid having to formally approve of North Korea’s nuclear program, which would further exacerbate relations with the United States and other countries. 

The theme also appeared in March last year in education material called “Regarding Learning from the Noble Spirit of National Self-respect the Great General and Respected Comrade Supreme Leader Have Shown in Their External Affairs Activities.” Issued by the Party Committee Propaganda Department of The Ministry of External Economic Relations, it quoted Kim Jong Un as saying, “It is the unwavering will and belief of our party to maintain independence in politics and diplomacy. Foreign affairs officers must carry out external affairs activities anytime and anywhere with the pride of a nuclear power state and the spirit of national self-respect.” 

Going forward, the relevant North Korean departments and diplomatic channels dealing with China will be fully mobilized to organize contact opportunities, including summits and high-level meetings, with a view to upgrading relations in the political, military and economic spheres, the directive said. 

“Russia highly valued (North Korea’s) self-defense strategic weapons systems,” the official in China said, quoting the directive. “(We) provided ammunition to Russia this time on the condition that Russia recognizes North Korea’s strategic weapons, including nuclear weapons.”

Russia’s war with Ukraine appears to be providing new life to North Korea-Russian relations. Kim Jong Un is looking to take advantage of it to “take China completely away from the United States and put it on the side of the DPRK.” He expects that recognition as a nuclear power by the two major allies would secure North Korea’s international status and break the circle of UN sanctions.

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