North Korea has had a troubled and complicated relationship with the West since the end of the Korean War. Australia, a close ally of the United States and one of the countries that fought on the side of South Korea in the war, has been an especially consistent source of hostility for North Korea. Even though the war ended over sixty years ago, North Korea continues to maintain an attitude of deep-seated distrust and resentment towards the country.
Recently, the North Korean government has begun to criticize Australia in its state media outlets, claiming that the country is “recklessly joining in the U.S. sanctions” against North Korea. The North Korean government has also accused Australia of “diplomatic ineptitude” and of “meddling” in its internal affairs. The North Korean ambassador to Australia has also threatened to take “retaliatory countermeasures” if the country does not change its stance towards North Korea.
The tensions between North Korea and Australia have also been intensified by past military confrontations. During the Korean War, Australian forces were dispatched to the Korean peninsula to fight alongside the United Nations forces in defense of South Korea. In recent times, Australia has been an active participant in U.S. efforts to pressure North Korea to abandon its nuclear program. In August 2017, Australia joined the U.S. in deploying warships to the region to monitor North Korean vessels, a move which North Korea’s foreign ministry described as “dangerous and provocative”.
In response to Australia’s stance towards North Korea, the regime has sought to weaken diplomatic relations between the two countries. Most recently, North Korea expelled Australia’s ambassador to Pyongyang and imposed sanctions on the country’s top diplomats. North Korea has also refused to participate in diplomatic talks with Australia, as well as other Western countries, due to its displeasure with what it perceives as hostile intentions. The persistence of this diplomatic standoff has made it increasingly difficult for Australia to improve relations with North Korea in the future.
The current tensions between Australia and North Korea can also be attributed to more general geopolitical issues. Australia’s strong support for the U.S.’s actions against North Korea and its close alliance with Japan has been met with deep suspicion and hostility by the regime. North Korea is also likely wary of Australia’s strategic position in the Asia–Pacific region and its potential use as a base for U.S. forces to launch attacks against North Korea.
Political ideology has also played a significant role in exacerbating the tensions between Australia and North Korea. North Korea is a strictly authoritarian state and views Australia, with its democratic values and liberal policies, as an existential threat to its own system of government. North Korea has accused Australia of attempting to spread “democratic reforms” in the region, which the regime claims is a direct attack on its ideology.
Economic rivalry has often been cited as another possible factor behind North Korea’s hostility towards Australia. The Australian economy is far more prosperousthan that of North Korea and is a major player in international trade. It is likely that North Korea seeks to limit Australia’s influence in the region in order to protect its own struggling economy.
Perception of Threat
Ultimately, it is difficult to ascertain the true reasons behind North Korea’s refusal to engage Australia on a diplomatic level. Whether the reasons are geopolitical, ideological or even economic, the North Korean government clearly perceives Australia as a threat and is unwilling to pursue a more amicable relationship with the country. Without further engagement and dialogue between the two countries, it is likely that tensions between them will continue to remain high.
IPR and Trade Disputes
Australia and North Korea have also had past disagreements over protection of intellectual property rights and federal trade regulations. Australia has consistently held the firm belief that respect for IPRs and fair/equal trade practices should be upheld, despite North Korea’s infamous track record of violating both of them. In 2018, North Korea publicly accused Australia of ‘interfering with its domestic trade system’ and called it “economic aggression”. This triggered a trade dispute between the two countries that is yet to be truly resolved.
Australia has also imposed a range of trade sanctions on North Korea in response to the country’s continued development of nuclear weapons and constant violations of international law. In addition to Australian sanctions, the United Nations Security Council also imposed a series of economic sanctions on North Korea in 2017, resulting in further tensions between the countries. North Korea has continually accused Australia of unfairly targeting the country’s economy, which has in turn hardened the regime’s attitudes towards Australia.
Despite the tensions between them, there are signs that Australia and North Korea may be looking to re-open diplomatic talks in an attempt to resolve some of their issues. In October 2018, Australia announced that it was in the process of organising talks between the two countries to open up diplomatic channels. However, with the current state of hostilities between them, it is unclear whether these efforts will be successful in defusing the tensions in the region.
Role of the US
The United States’ involvement and position in relation to North Korea has also been a key factor in the strained relations between Australia and North Korea. North Korea has viewed Australia’s close ties and alliance with the US as a direct threat. North Korea has continually warned the US not to involve itself in ‘its’ internal and external affairs, and these warnings have been echoed by North Korea’s spread to Australia. This has added further tension to Australia-North Korea relations, and it appears that any further progress or negotiations will be contingent on the US’ role in the region.
Overall, North Korea’s hostility towards Australia is rooted in the country’s historical conflict with the West, military confrontations, diplomatic backlash, geopolitical issues, political ideology, economic factors and its perception of threat from Australia. These issues continue to be highly relevant in dictating the current state of relations between the two countries, which shows no sign of improvement. With the involvement of the US in the region and the potential for new negotiations, the future of Australia and North Korea’s diplomatic relations remains uncertain.