North Korea, officially named the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, is an independent country located on the northern half of the Korean Peninsula. Founded in 1945, it is one of the world's few command economies, officially governed with socialist and communist systems. Despite its official name, however, North Korea is not considered a democracy by the international community - the country's Supreme Leader, Kim Jong-un, is generally viewed as a totalitarian dictator or monarch. The Kim family has held strict control over the country's affairs since its founding, and the country has arguably been the most isolated and secretive in recent history - because of this, much of the information the West has about North Korea is based on speculation, while officially-released data is treated with suspicion.
For most of modern history, the peninsula was united as one country under the Joseon dynasty, before it was annexed by the Japanese Empire in 1910. In the wake of Japan's defeat in the Second World War, the peninsula was then split along the 38th parallel in 1945, with the USSR occupying the north and the U.S. taking the south. Cold War ideological tensions and disagreements between the northern and southern governments saw reunification negotiations break down, with both sides claiming to be the legitimate governments of the peninsula. In 1950, the Soviet- and Chinese-backed Northern army invaded the South, which started the Korean War. The South received military support from the United Nations, but the vast majority came from the U.S., which was trying to contain the spread of communism in Asia. Much of the ground conflict took place in the South, before it later became concentrated along the 38th parallel, while the U.S. maintained aerial superiority throughout and conducted large scale bombing campaigns in the North. The war lasted until 1953, and saw the deaths of up to three million Koreans (total figures remain unclear), and the large-scale destruction of many urban areas. After the armistice ended the war and established the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between the two Koreas - what was intended as a temporary partition had de facto established two Korean states on the peninsula.
Since its founding, North Korea has often been associated with controversy and treated with suspicion by the west and its Asian allies. In the early stages of the Cold War, North Korea benefitted from its connections with the USSR and China, and its prosperity outpaced the South in many areas. However, as China established relations with the west in the 1970s, and as the Soviet economy weakened in the 1980s, North Korea became increasingly isolated and its economy stagnated. The dissolution of the Soviet Union then caused economic collapse in North Korea, which had become dependent on Soviet loans and aid. Thereafter, flooding, drought, and economic mismanagement in the early 1990s led to food shortages, with subsequent famine possibly resulting in the deaths of over half a million people; North Korea then became dependent on foreign aid from countries such as China, the U.S., and South Korea to recover and re-establish food stability. International relations then improved in the wake of these crises and the death of Kim Il-sung in 1994, with North Korea joining the United Nations in 1991 while also strengthening trade with the ASEAN bloc. However, North Korea's nuclear ambitions and heightened geopolitical tensions after the September 11 attacks led to some setbacks.
Modern North Korea
North Korea has been ruled by the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK) since its founding, and the Party has been headed by a member of the Kim family since this time. Kim Jong-un became the Supreme Leader of North Korea in 2011, following the death of his father, Kim Jong-Il. The WPK controls all aspects of daily life in North Korea, dictating the jobs held by citizens, controlling what information is taught in schools or shared by the media, and it even controls the opposition parties. Elections are held in North Korea every five years and all citizens have the right to vote, however these are usually considered sham elections outside North Korea, held only as a show to legitimize the WPK's position. Authorities also maintain a strict control over border crossings, not only to prevent unauthorized entry into the country, but also to prevent defectors from trying to leave - defectors' stories are one of the most important sources of information that the West has regarding life in North Korea.
Since the 1990s, North Korea's economic and demographic development have been in line with other similarly-developed countries in Asia, but it has significantly fallen behind South Korea due to the South's rapid economic growth since the late-1980s, as well as international sanctions and isolationist policies of the North. The economy is centered around its capital city and military, with particular emphasis on the expansion of its nuclear capabilities in recent decades. Roughly 90 percent of foreign trade has been with China in the past decade, from whom North Korea imports large volume of mechanical and electronic goods. Food shortages, exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic, is a reoccurring issue for North Korea, as poor harvests, international sanctions, and a downturn in inter-Korean trade has created sourcing problems - the full extent of this issue remains unknown, but it is estimated that almost half the population is undernourished.
Recent years have seen an improvement in inter-Korean relations, as well as a meeting in the DMZ between the two Korean leaders and the U.S. President in 2018 - but sporadic North Korean military exercises and nuclear tests have often antagonized its neighbors, which has created more issues. Nonetheless, the majority of South Koreans view the peninsula is one Korea which should be reunified, and the South continues to pursue this objective.
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In the following 4 chapters, you will quickly find the 34 most important statistics relating to "North Korea".