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North Korea


Relations with China and the Soviet Union

P'yongyang's relations with Beijing and Moscow have changed significantly over time as the result of the changing domestic environment, emerging disparities in the strategic interests of the three countries, and key events such as the Sino-Soviet split, the collapse of communism, and the replacement of the Soviet Union with Russia and the Commonwealth of Independent States (CIS) (see China and the Soviet Union , ch. 4). Data on Chinese and Soviet arms transfers to North Korea are scarce and unreliable.

General trends in post-Korean War assistance can be grouped into six phases. During the first period (1953-56), the Soviet Union supplied assistance unilaterally, and China maintained troops in North Korea. In the second period (1957-60), Soviet deStalinization measures led to tension in Soviet-North Korean relations (see Foreign Policy , ch. 4). As China pulled its troops out of Korea, however, it increased military assistance. During the third phase (1961-64, the beginning of the Sino-Soviet split), both China and the Soviet Union gave little assistance. The fourth period (1965-72) was characterized by renewed Soviet assistance and a drop in Chinese assistance. In the fifth period (1973-84), China's support for North Korea increased steadily while the delivery of major equipment from the Soviet Union declined significantly. In the sixth period (1984-89), especially after Kim Il Sung's visit to Moscow in May 1984, Soviet military assistance to North Korea grew dramatically as Chinese military assistance declined. The Soviet Union supplied North Korea with major weapons systems, including late-model jet aircraft, SA-2D, SA-3, and SA-5 SAM systems, and significant support equipment. Cooperation intensified in other military areas. There were yearly joint naval and air force exercises from 1986 to 1990, exchanges of high-ranking military personnel, reciprocal aircraft and warship visits, and exchanges of military intelligence. North Korea permits overflights by Soviet reconnaissance planes and bombers, and grants warships access to ports.

The economic and political reforms taking place in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union in 1989 produced a shift in relations with North Korea. Naval exercises with the Soviet Union were stopped in 1990. As of mid-1993, North Korea's security relations with the CIS and Russia were in flux. North Korea's military relations with Russia have cooled considerably, although there are indications that both countries are attempting to reestablish relations on a pragmatic basis. Press accounts indicate that Russia has assumed its treaty obligations with North Korea. In March 1992, the CIS chief of staff General Viktor Samonov visited North Korea and signed an "annual plan for the exchange of manpower" and an agreement on mutual cooperation. General Samonov indicated that CIS military logistic support is being supplied on a commercial basis and that North Korea is having difficulty meeting the payments.

P'yongyang supported Beijing's response to the Tiananmen Square incident in 1989. By the early 1990s, Chinese-North Korean relations had grown warmer, although cooperation apparently has not involved the transfers of major weapons systems. China's relations with South Korea do not appear to negatively affect its relations with North Korea.

Data as of June 1993