If one looks at recent trends in North Korean foreign policy, it is becoming increasingly clear that the North Korean government is not all that interested in improving its relations with the outside world.
Relations with China are as bad as they have ever been in the last 20-odd years. While China remains North Korea’s major supplier of aid, as well as its main trade partner, the North Korean side has taken a number of deliberate steps that have offended China and kept it at a distance. Very recently, one has to admit, North Korea has demonstrated some interest in improving relations with China. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen whether these half-hearted attempts will produce any results.
The last two years have been marked by unusually vocal diplomatic overtures to Russia. It seems that the North Korean side wishes to attract Russian trade and investment as a potential substitute for Chinese money. It is highly unlikely though that they will succeed. Russia has neither the desire, nor the ability, to subsidize North Korea on the scale that Pyongyang would consider sufficient.
What are the reasons for [North Korea’s] attitude? To some extent, it might reflect the personal style of the new, young leader [Kim Jong-un]. However, to a much greater extent, this change of line might be connected with the recent improvement in North Korea’s economic situation. In 2013-14, North Korea’s harvests were nearly sufficient to feed the population. Now, in spite of the widely-reported drought, there are no immediate signs of a food crisis.
[North Korea’s] improvement in economic fortunes may be fragile and could be short-lived, but it may have led North Korean leaders to believe that for the time being, they do not need to squeeze more aid from the outside world. However, if they do not need aid, they are likely to take a more isolationist stance, since interactions with the outside world are often seen as politically dangerous.
[Radio Free Asia]