“North Korea has had fairly close relations with Laos for several decades. They’re both countries that [are] at least nominally socialist or communist states,” says Sokeel Park, research director for Liberty in North Korea, a South Korean organization that assists North Korean refugees.
To find evidence of Laos’ longstanding ties to North Korea, look no further than the dining establishments. Laos hosts a North Korean-run restaurant in the heart of Vientiane, the capital of Laos. These North Korean restaurants are part of the regime’s money-making operations, a way for Pyongyang to earn hard currency abroad, since sanctions have increasingly cut it off from the rest of the world.
Laos is also one of the countries North Korean defectors sometimes pass through on their way to a final destination, like South Korea. They know …. Laos is willing to look the other way.
But in recent months, South Korea has stepped up efforts to drive a wedge between Laos and North Korea. South Korea has been sending diplomats, increasing communication and signed a new military-to-military agreement. All in hopes Laos will get tougher on its North Korean partner.
“We think Laos and other countries previously friendly with North Korea have turned around considerably after the U.N. sanctions went into effect, and that they’re now supporting South Korea’s policies,” says South Korea’s Foreign Ministry Spokesman Cho June-hyuck.