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North Korea

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A north-east Asian country. Consisting of the northern half of the Korean peninsula, mostly above the 38th parallel, North Korea was formed from the zone occupied by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II. It borders to the south with South Korea and to the north with the People's Republic of China.


North Korea is largely mountainous with narrow valleys, extensive forests, and rivers which freeze in winter.


North Korea is rich in metal deposits such as iron ore, magnesite, phosphate, sulphur, zinc, and copper, which are major exports. 90% of cultivated land is owned by cooperatives producing the principal crops of rice, maize, and potatoes. In the mid-1990s the economy suffered a dramatic collapse owing to the ending of preferential trading terms with the Soviet Union and China and severe floods that had a devastating effect on agriculture. It is believed that over a quarter of GNP is spent on the armed forces, which are thought to be amongst the world's largest.


The Democratic People's Republic was proclaimed an independent state on 1 May 1948. Intent on reuniting Korea, North Korea launched a surprise attack on South Korea in June 1950, suffering considerable damage and loss of life in the following three years of the indecisive Korean War. After the war, the ruling communist party of Kim Il Sung (first President of North Korea) undertook a programme of reconstruction, using the country's mineral and power resources to finance economic development. From the early 1980s, however, the economy was stagnant and then in decline. This was a factor in the decision in 1985 to hold a series of economic talks with South Korea, after the many years of tension. The result was a marked upturn in trade between the two countries ($25 million in 1990 to $192 million in 1991). Kim Il Sung was re-elected in 1990; he supported a policy of seeking ‘normalization’ with South Korea, but not of reunification. Talks between respective premiers began in September 1990 and continued into 1992, when an economic agreement was signed. Tensions flared again in the later 1990s, over allegations that North Korea was building nuclear weapons and a series of incursions into South Korean territory. A mutual cooperation treaty between the two Koreas was signed in 2000. Kim Jong Il (1942–2011) succeeded his father as President in 1995. There was renewed concern about North Korea's nuclear programme from 2002. In 2011, Kim Jong Il died and was succeeded by his youngest son, Kim Jong Un (c.1983– ).

Source: MAPS IN MINUTES™ © RH Publications (1997)




122,400 sq km (47,300 sq miles)


22,488,000 (2005)


1 North Korean won = 100 chon


Atheist or non-religious 71.2%; Ch'ondogyo 12.9%; traditional beliefs 12.3%; Christian 2.1%; Buddhist 1.5%

Ethnic Groups:

Korean 99.8%; Chinese 0.2%


Korean (official); Chinese

International Organizations:

UN; Non-Aligned Movement

Subjects: History

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