7 Countries Helping or Working With North Korea — and the 1 That Could Betray It

North Korea is known as the Hermit Kingdom for a reason. They are the most isolated country, politically, in the entire world. Even so, they do have international allies that help them despite pressure from the some of the world’s superpowers.

Many of these allies are eternally intertwined politically with North Korea. Some are lynchpins, so to speak, and could take the regime down. Take a look at some of North Korea’s largest international partners and which ones may betray them critically.

1. Ally: Russia

Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin adjusts his sunglasses as he watches an air show.

Russia works very closely with North Korea. | Dmitry Kostyukov/AFP/Getty Images

Russia is one of North Korea’s oldest allies. The U.S.S.R. was the main benefactor to the North Korean regime during the Cold War, and the current Russian Federation still maintains close ties to North Korea. It is in Russia’s best interest to have North Korea maintain control of their region for multiple reasons.

North Korea acts as a buffer state between Russia and U.S. allies, South Korea and Japan. Even though the Cold War is over, tensions between the West and Russia have never been higher. Being that North Korea is one of the few countries sharing a land border with Russia, they are also a strategic fuel route.

Next: An equally big supporter of North Korea that is problematic, to say the least

2. Ally: China

President Xi Jinping attends a meeting.

China also supports Russia. | Nicolas Asouri – Pool/Getty Images

China is another huge ally of the North Korean regime. Many of the same interests that maintain Russia’s support, maintain China’s support. They are good trade allies and they share mutually beneficial geopolitical stakes.

China and Russia have both condemned the nuclear tests that North Korea has been doing. But they have no interest in stopping or destabilizing the regime. It’s in their best interest to have the North Korean regime stable and distracting the world. For China, they need a distraction from the disputes in the South China Sea. For Russia, they need a distraction for Syria.

Next: This next country isn’t an outright ally of North Korea, but it is a strategic informal partner.

3. Potential ally: Pakistan

Pakistan President Mamnoon speaking in a courtroom.

Pakistan President Mamnoon Hussain has made deals with North Korea. | Lintao Zhang/Pool/Getty Images

Now, this isn’t an outright alliance. Pakistan has had some ties to North Korea, including trade and aid, but has never made an official bond with the country. Most of the interactions between the two are in the black or gray markets.

The only country with enough influence to stop that is China. China’s biggest enemy is India. So China isn’t going to stop Pakistan from doing that because Pakistan causes a constant headache for India. It’s the same kind of logic you might expect on a playground, but it does keep them busy.

Next: This next country is a capitalist country that wants better trade with North Korea. 

4. Potential ally: Malaysia

Malaysia's Prime Minister Najib Razak addresses a press conference at a hotel.

Malaysia makes trade with North Korea. | Manan Vatsyayana/AFP/Getty Images

Malaysia was once very anti-Communist, especially after crushing a Socialist insurgency in the late 1980s. However, because they are very pro-business and they are a Capitalistic society, they will trade with anyone. That includes North Korea. Strategically speaking, this is good for both countries. Malaysia gets yet another trading partner in the Pacific, and North Korea uses Malaysia to open its self up to the world markets.

Next: The only European ally.

5. Ally: Bulgaria

Bulgaria's president at a press conference.

Bulgaria also has a relationship with North Korea. | AFP/Contributor/Getty Images

North Korea actually does have a European ally. The relationship between Bulgaria and North Korea began during the communist era. They have maintained that relationship since the fall of the Bulgarian communist regime. It’s also one of the few countries that Kim Il Sung has visited when he was alive.

However, Sofia has become concerned with North Korea’s “saber-rattling.” They have strengthened their bilateral agreement, and at the same time followed all U.N. and European sanctions against the regime. It’s hard to tell where Bulgaria’s loyalties lie, but they are not a critical component of the North Korean regime.

Next: The things they do for this country are monstrous.

6. Ally: Syria

Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad attends a summit.

These two countries relationship is problematic. | Awad Awad/AFP/Getty Images

The al-Assad regime knows no bounds to its brutality. One of their greatest offenses is the use of chemical weapons on its own citizens. Those chemical weapons are being developed with the aid of North Korean personnel and products. North Korea provides certain tiles, thermometers, and valves necessary to developing chemical weapons. The U.N. has also seen North Korean technicians at Syrian chemical weapons factories.

Next: Will this country betray North Korea?

7. Potential betrayer: Madagascar

Madagascars President Hery Martial Rajaonarimampianina Rakotoarimanana addresses the 72nd Session of the United Nations General assembly at the UN headquarters.

Madagascar is one of North Korea’s largest allies. | AFP/Getty Images

North Korea actually has quite a few African allies. Madagascar is one of its largest. A large portion of its arms manufacturing is done in Madagascar, alongside Uganda, Ethiopia, Namibia, and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Most of the trade is brought through Madagascar and into North Korea. Madagascar is also home to larger black and gray market operations that North Korea has outside of their borders.

Next: Here are the countries that are going to betray North Korea.

8. African nations will be the ones to betray North Korea

Kim Jong-Un waving from a balcony.

North Korea relied heavily on the help from other countries. | Ed Jones/AFP/Getty Images

As the West isolated North Korea and pushed fledgling African nations to the side in the 20th century, the nations naturally attracted to each other. That created large opportunities to manufacture and trade within each other’s borders. These relationships were always dismissed by the West because the West viewed all the nations involved as non-threatening.

Now it looks like they could hold the key to toppling the North Korean regime. The majority of North Korea’s conventional weapons are produced in African countries. They also rely heavily on food from these countries, mainly fish.

Next: The betrayal has already begun. 

9. The pawns are falling

Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir delivers a speech during a visit to the village of Bilel in South Darfur.

Are things going to change? | Ashraf Shazly/AFP/Getty Images

African nations are being lured away from their trade agreements with North Korea by the U.S. Sudan abandoned its trade relationship agreement in exchange for lifted sanctions from the U.S. and its allies. It’s only a matter of time before that begins to happen with other countries as well. Theoretically,  China and Russia would have to supplement way too much trade for stable international relationships and couldn’t absorb the political cost.

Whether any of that will work or is apart of the West’s strategy, we don’t know. But we can speculate given the information we have.

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