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North Korea in the eyes of the Nordic region and China

Coverage of North Korea in the mainstream global media has been overwhelmingly negative, and a standardized understanding of North Korea, strengthened over time and through repetition, has spread and crystallized throughout global society. As a result, alternative approaches or standpoints with regard to North Korea are viewed with doubt and skepticism. In this issue of News from Northeast Asia, we depart from this kind of globalized perspective and examine North Korea from the lesser known positions of countries in Northern Europe, which have maintained diplomatic relations with North Korea over a long period of time, and online communities in China, North Korea’s strongest ally.

In ‘A Nordic inspiration for sustainable peace on the Korean peninsula?’, Geir Helgesen of the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies (NIAS) presents his belief that the experience of societies in Northern Europe in transforming a long history of conflict into a relationship of peace and cooperation can provide inspiration for peace-building on the Korean peninsula. Gleaning lessons from the case of Northern Europe, he found that cultural differences impede the understanding of the actions of a counterpart and can be very difficult to overcome. On the other hand, shared values and norms can become the foundation for cooperation. Demonization of North Korea in the past 20 years has made obscure the fact that the way of life of North Koreans is culturally very similar to other East Asian societies.

In the second article, ‘North Korea from a Norwegian perspective’, Norwegian Ambassador to South Korea Jan Grevstad puts forth Oslo’s official position toward the regime in Pyongyang. Having maintained diplomatic relations with North Korea since 1973, Norway has continued to provide humanitarian aid to North Korea regardless of political change. At the same time, the Norwegian government has denounced North Korea over its human rights issues and supported multilateral sanctions on North Korea for defying international law with its nuclear development program. Grevstad argues that understanding North Korea’s situation can be the first step toward valuable discussions on the country.

‘Perspectives on North Korea and the North Korean nuclear issue in Chinese online media’ reveals through an analysis of mainstream Chinese media that there is a diversity of opinions and attitudes to North Korea in Chinese society existing beyond the official stance of Beijing. Jeong-Hoon Lee examines discussions on popular internet forums in China and finds a mix of opinions on North Korea among various social cohorts—the realist perspective of the highly educated middle class, the non-ideological and negative views of the youth, and the idealistic perspective of those who regard North Korea an authentic socialist regime.


Kyuhoon CHO, Research Fellow, Asia Center, Seoul National University (kcho28@snu.ac.kr)

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