North Korea is an East Asian country located in the Northern hemisphere of the earth. It is situated on the border between Russia and China and has a long land border with the South Korean peninsula. The country is divided in two provinces – North Pyongan and South Pyongan – and covers an area of 120,540 km² with a population estimated at 25 million inhabitants. North Korea has the longest border in the world, extending for more than 1500 km along the demilitarized zone.
North Korea has a unique geography: it is generally divided into four distinct regions – the coastal plains; the highlands; the highlands; and the southern plains. The coastal plains form the largest part of the country, taking up roughly 70% of the total land area, and are characterized by low mountains and long, interconnected river systems leading to the sea. The highlands are located in the eastern and western parts of the country and are a series of mountain ranges that extend through the northern part of the country. In the southeastern part of the country is the Baekdudaegan mountain range that separates the coastal plain from the highlands. Finally, the southern plains in the far south of the country consist mainly of open grasslands and low hills.
Politics and Government
North Korea, officially known as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) is a single-party, full-fledged dictatorship that has been headed by the Kim dynasty since the 1960s. The nation is governed by the Korean Workers’ Party which holds a monopoly on power, imposing strict rules and this is enforced by the Korean People’s Army which is the fifth-largest standing army in the world. The country also has one of the most pervasive security apparatuses in the world, built to control both internal and external dissent.
The most important decision-making body in the state is the Supreme People’s Assembly, a legislative body composed of members of the Workers’ Party and local representatives. Actual power rests with the ruling Workers’ Party and the Kim family. Leader Kim Jong Un effectively holds the levers of power, while his father and grandfather are enshrined in the state’s ruling ideology, known as Songun, or “Military-First” policy. As a result, most decisions in the country are made through the central government and the Workers’ Party.
North Korea has a state-controlled economy based on the planned economic system of the Soviet Union and centrally directed by the government. The government controls all the major productive sectors including all manufacturing and output. The largest component of the economy is the defense sector, which accounts for about 40% of the GDP. Other major sectors of the economy include the industrial, agricultural, and service sectors. Agriculture accounts for a significant share of GDP, with rice and other grains being the main output. In addition, North Korea also produces coal, electricity, and metal products.
North Korea’s economy is largely dependent on foreign aid and trade with its neighbouring countries such as South Korea, China and Russia. North Korea has some mineral resources but lacks significant natural resources, making it vulnerable to fluctuations in global energy prices. In recent years, the country has faced considerable economic challenges due to international sanctions, resulting in reduced economic growth.
In terms of foreign trade and investment, the country is largely closed off to the outside world. Foreign investment into the country is strictly limited and international trade is limited to diplomacy- or protection-related activities. North Korea is a member of the United Nations and has opened some economic zones near the Chinese border, allowing foreign companies to set up factories. In recent years, investments in the tourism sector have grown, with the country opening its doors to foreign travellers.
Culture and Society
North Korea is home to a diverse culture that has been shaped by its unique geography, history and politics. North Koreans are proud of their distinct culture, which is distinct from those of South Korea and other East Asian countries. The culture of North Korea is largely characterised by Confucian values such as filial piety, respect for authority, hierarchy, hard work, and education. North Korean culture is heavily influenced by communist propaganda and juche ideology, which emphasise the importance of collective unity, loyalty to the nation and its leader, and self-reliance.
In terms of language, North Koreans speak Korean which is the official language of the country. In addition, English is widely spoken throughout the country. The country also has a strong emphasis on education, with the government providing free education for all citizens. North Koreans are also well known for their traditional art forms, such as music, dance, and painting. All of these forms of art are used to express traditional culture and celebrate the country’s history.
North Korea’s international relations have been largely shaped by the relationship with its southern neighbor, South Korea, and other global powers such as China, the United States and Russia. North Korea’s policies, especially related to its nuclear weapons program, have been a major source of international tension and economic sanctions. North Korea is also a member of several global organisations, such as the United Nations, but is often isolated from other countries due to its authoritarian government and nuclear ambitions.
Most recently, North Korea has turned much of its focus towards improving relations with the United States and other regional powers. In 2018, North and South Korea held historic talks, and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has held summits with US President Donald Trump in Singapore, following joint US-South Korean military exercises in South Korea.
North Korea has also taken some steps towards opening up to the global market as a result of sanctions. The nation has pursued business investments from abroad, with companies from China, Russia and South Korea among those investing in North Korea. Despite the potential for economic growth, North Korea still remains isolated from much of the international community and its efforts to engage in dialogue have been largely rejected by the United States.
Sports and Recreation
Sports are popular among the North Korean people, with the government promoting sports as part of its ‘sports diplomacy’ initiative. Football is the most popular sport in the country and teams have represented North Korea at international tournaments such as the Olympics and World Cup. In addition to football, North Koreans also partake in other activities such as martial arts, winter sports, and fencing.
In addition to sports, the North Korean people also enjoy various recreational activities. The government operates a number of public parks, which are popular recreational spots. North Koreans also enjoy traditional theatre, film, and music as well as North Korean and international television. North Koreans also enjoy going to bowling alleys, billiard halls, and outdoor amusement parks.
Lifestyle and Health
The lifestyle in North Korea remains largely traditional. In the cities, people live in apartments and apartments are usually shared by multiple families. Many people still rely on old-fashioned methods of transportation, such as bicycles and oxcarts. People wear traditional clothing, such as the ‘hanbok’ and the ‘jinbeb’.
Regarding health, North Korea has a lower life expectancy than most other countries, mainly due to the lack of investment in healthcare and a general lack of food security. North Koreans suffer from illnesses such as malaria, tuberculosis and Cholera, as well as malnutrition and poor water supply which are largely due to the country’s poverty. North Korea also has a very low level of access to modern medical facilities, and it is estimated that around 70% of North Koreans are without health insurance.
Overall, North Korea has faced a number of challenges due to poor economic development, poverty and social isolation. Nonetheless, the country has managed to retain its distinct culture and many of its traditional practices. The future of North Korea remains uncertain, but the government and its leader Kim Jong Un have expressed a commitment to economic development and improved relations with the international community.
North Korea has a compulsory public education system that is state-funded, with 10 years of primary schooling, 4 years of middle school, and 6 years of high school. Education is free, and all students are required to attend school until the age of 16. North Korean students focus heavily on their studies, with intense memorisation and rote learning being emphasised in classrooms. Students are expected to excel in the subjects of mathematics, science, and the Korean language.
In addition to the national curricula, North Korean students are also required to attend the ‘Three Revolutions’ education program, which focuses on the thoughts and principles of the late North Korean leader Kim Il-sung. All schools require students to attend political indoctrination programs and extracurricular activities such as political study classes, in order to promote loyalty to North Korea and its leadership.
For university-level education, North Koreans are encouraged to attend universities abroad, or attend state-run universities in the country. These universities focus on the study of science, engineering and the military. Few North Korean students have access to higher education institutions abroad due to the country’s isolation.
Tourism and Landscape
North Korea has a unique landscape that is marked by rugged mountains and deep valleys. The country is also home to several World Heritage Sites and thanks to its isolation and oppressive government, has managed to preserve its unique natural beauty. The country receives a number of visitors each year, mostly from China and Russia, and the government has been promoting travel and tourism in recent years.
The capital city of Pyongyang has become a popular tourist destination, with a range of attractions including the Ryugyong Hotel, the Pyongyang International Trade Fair, and the Children’s Palace. There are several other tourist attractions in the country, including the Myohyang Mountain, which is renowned for its hot springs and stunning views of the countryside, and the Juche Tower in central Pyongyang.
The natural landscape of North Korea includes beaches, plains, and mountains. There are several national parks in the country including the North Hamgyong, South Hamgyong and North Pyongan provinces, as well as a number of scenic coastal regions such as the Kumgangsan and Seoraksan national parks.
Although North Korea remains isolated from much of the world due to its unique political system, it is still a country that is full of surprises. The culture of North Korea is influenced by its harsh geography, difficult political climate and ancient traditions, and this has created a country that is wholly distinct from its neighbours. North Korea also offers visitors a rare glimpse into a country that has managed to retain its independence while avoiding most of the economic and technological advances of modern times.