A Swedish take on North Korea

EPA/JONAS EKSTROMER

A file photograph dated 03 May 2001 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Il (L) hosts a lunch meeting with former European Council President Goeran Persson, (R) and other European delegation members, in Pyongyang, North Korea.

A Swedish take on North Korea


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One small Nordic country could play a key role in resolving the tension between the United States and North Korea. This country is Sweden.

As reported by The Local, Stockholm and Pyongyang have had a relationship since the 1970s, and with Sweden being the first Western country to open an embassy in North Korea, it is fair to say their relationship is an unusually long-standing one. In fact, until 2001 Sweden was the only Western country with an unbroken diplomatic presence in the country.

One probable reason Sweden and North Korea are so friendly is money. Back in the 1970s, the Swedish government encouraged companies like Sanvik, SKF and car maker Volvo to court North Korea as a potential new export market.

But plans in Pyongyang did not materialise as expected. A North Korean order for 1,000 Volvo 144 cars has yet to be paid.

Another reason is Sweden’s historic policy of neutrality. In 2001, for instance, then Swedish PM Göran Persson led an EU delegation as EU President to Pyongyang for talks with Kim Jung-Il, making him the first Western leader to visit the state.

According to The Local, Sweden’s relationship with North Korea today is mainly one of humanitarian aid. Sweden donates around 40m kronor annually, making it one of the biggest givers of aid to the country in the world.

What is more, Swedes also work as a Protecting Power for the United States in North Korea, which includes providing consular responsibility for US citizens there. It performs the same role for Canada and Australia.

“Our embassy in North Korea has a long-standing presence and a unique platform in the country… Our presence in North Korea enables us to engage in dialogue and interactions. We take this role very seriously,” Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallström said in a statement last week.

“I think there is a real potential for Sweden to act as a facilitator in the discussion. Sweden and the US have a good working relationship regarding North Korea, and North Korea views Sweden as a lesser evil among the international actors,” Niklas Swanström, director of the Stockholm-based research and policy institute the Institute for Security and Development Policy which has hosted North Korean research fellows told The Local.

“This changed somewhat after Sweden, as a member of the UN Security Council stood behind the new sanctions [against North Korea], but that said, Sweden has worked effectively when assisting the US and other states in returning people arrested in North Korea.”

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