The Koreas

Seoul Targets North Korea’s Allies in Diplomatic Blitz

South Korea continues to court Pyongyang’s closest friends: in this case, Cambodia and Laos.

John Power
Seoul Targets North Korea’s Allies in Diplomatic Blitz
Credit: Korean peninsula map image via

South Korea’s vice defense minister wrapped up a five-day visit to two of North Korea’s few remaining allies on Friday in the latest example of Seoul pressuring its rival by courting its closest friends.

On Thursday, Hwang In-moo and his Laotian counterpart Onsey Senesouk signed an agreement to establish military attache offices in each other’s countries and work toward regular defense cooperation. Earlier in the week, Hwang and his delegation discussed North Korea with Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen and Foreign Minister Prak Sokhon. During the meeting, Prak Sohon condemned Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons tests, the Phnom Penh Post reported.

The Southeast Asian countries are among a dwindling number of nations with close ties to Pyongyang, which has been heavily censured by the United Nations, the United States and other countries for its repeated nuclear and missiles tests.

In 2013, Laos repatriated a group of North Korean refugees to their homeland, allegedly over the objections of South Korea. More recently, last October the Southeast Asian country, which remains officially communist like Pyongyang, hosted a North Korean delegation that reportedly discussed expanding ties in trade, science, and technology.

Cambodia has also maintained cordial ties with Pyongyang, employing the Mansudae Art Studio to design and build the new Angkor Panorama Museum in Siem Rep and even banning the controversial comedy film The Interview, which depicts the assassination of Kim Jong-un, to avoid upsetting the regime.

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Since North Korea’s fourth nuclear weapons test and a raft of missile launches earlier this year, South Korea has been cozying up to countries with close ties to Pyongyang. By forging closer relationships with Pyongyang’s friends, Seoul hopes to convince them to help rein in its rival. Similar diplomatic efforts led Uganda to announce in May an end to longstanding military cooperation with Pyongyang.

Outwardly, at least, Seoul’s counterparts in this week’s meetings seemed to be on the same page.

The Laotians indicated supported for Seoul’s efforts toward a nuclear weapons-free peninsula and promised to implement the latest UN resolutions against North Korea, South Korea’s Yonhap News reported.

Seoul hailed the dialogue as “an achievement that has weakened North Korea’s diplomatic standing in the international community,” according to the news service.

In Cambodia, the message was similar. Government spokesman Phay Siphan said North Korea was a friend,  The Phnom Penh Post reported, but “when a friend does a wrongdoing, Cambodia doesn’t support it and condemns it.”