Korea, North

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An independent kingdom for much of its long history, Korea was occupied by Japan beginning in 1905 following the Russo-Japanese War. Five years later, Japan formally annexed the entire peninsula. Following World War II, Korea was split with the northern half coming under Soviet-sponsored communist control. After failing in the Korean War (1950-53) to conquer the US-backed Republic of Korea (ROK) in the southern portion by force, North Korea (DPRK), under its founder President KIM Il Sung, adopted a policy of ostensible diplomatic and economic "self-reliance" as a check against outside influence. The DPRK demonized the US as the ultimate threat to its social system through state-funded propaganda, and molded political, economic, and military policies around the core ideological objective of eventual unification of Korea under Pyongyang's control. KIM Il Sung's son, KIM Jong Il, was officially designated as his father's successor in 1980, assuming a growing political and managerial role until the elder KIM's death in 1994. KIM Jong Un was publicly unveiled as his father's successor in 2010. Following KIM Jong Il's death in 2011, KIM Jong Un quickly assumed power and has now taken on most of his father's former titles and duties. After decades of economic mismanagement and resource misallocation, the DPRK since the mid-1990s has relied heavily on international aid to feed its population. The DPRK began to ease restrictions to allow semi-private markets, starting in 2002, but then sought to roll back the scale of economic reforms in 2005 and 2009. North Korea's history of regional military provocations; proliferation of military-related items; long-range missile development; WMD programs including tests of nuclear devices in 2006, 2009, and 2013; and massive conventional armed forces are of major concern to the international community. The regime in 2013 announced a new policy calling for the simultaneous development of its nuclear weapons program and its economy.



Eastern Asia, northern half of the Korean Peninsula bordering the Korea Bay and the Sea of Japan, between China and South Korea

Geographic coordinates

40.00° N, 127.00° E

Area 99/257

total: 120,538 sq km

land: 120,408 sq km

water: 130 sq km

Area - comparative

slightly larger than Virginia; slightly smaller than Mississippi

Land boundaries

total: 1,607 km

border countries (3): China 1,352 km, South Korea 237 km, Russia 18 km


2,495 km

Maritime claims

territorial sea: 12 nm

exclusive economic zone: 200 nm

note: military boundary line 50 nm in the Sea of Japan and the exclusive economic zone limit in the Yellow Sea where all foreign vessels and aircraft without permission are banned


temperate, with rainfall concentrated in summer; long, bitter winters


mostly hills and mountains separated by deep, narrow valleys; wide coastal plains in west, discontinuous in east


mean elevation:

elevation extremes:

lowest point: Sea of Japan 0 m

highest point: Paektu-san 2,744 m

Natural resources

coal, lead, tungsten, zinc, graphite, magnesite, iron ore, copper, gold, pyrites, salt, fluorspar, hydropower

Land use

agricultural land: 21.8%

arable land 19.5%; permanent crops 1.9%; permanent pasture 0.4%

forest: 46%

other: 32.2% (2011 est.)

Irrigated land

14,600 sq km (2012)

Total renewable water resources

77.15 cu km (2011)

Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural)

total: 8.66 cu km/yr (10%/13%/76%)

per capita: 360.6 cu m/yr (2005)

Natural hazards

late spring droughts often followed by severe flooding; occasional typhoons during the early fall

volcanism: Changbaishan (elev. 2,744 m) (also known as Baitoushan, Baegdu or P'aektu-san), on the Chinese border, is considered historically active

Environment - current issues

water pollution; inadequate supplies of potable water; waterborne disease; deforestation; soil erosion and degradation

Environment - international agreements

party to: Antarctic Treaty, Biodiversity, Climate Change, Climate Change-Kyoto Protocol, Desertification, Environmental Modification, Hazardous Wastes, Ozone Layer Protection, Ship Pollution

signed, but not ratified: Law of the Sea

Geography - note

strategic location bordering China, South Korea, and Russia; mountainous interior is isolated and sparsely populated

People and Society


noun: Korean(s)

adjective: Korean

Ethnic groups

racially homogeneous; there is a small Chinese community and a few ethnic Japanese




traditionally Buddhist and Confucianist, some Christian and syncretic Chondogyo (Religion of the Heavenly Way)

note: autonomous religious activities now almost nonexistent; government-sponsored religious groups exist to provide illusion of religious freedom

Population 51/238

24,983,205 (July 2015 est.)

Age structure

0-14 years: 21.21% (male 2,692,482/female 2,606,842)

15-24 years: 16.08% (male 2,027,480/female 1,989,839)

25-54 years: 44.04% (male 5,511,569/female 5,491,236)

55-64 years: 8.76% (male 1,034,064/female 1,154,141)

65 years and over: 9.91% (male 852,962/female 1,622,590) (2015 est.)

Dependency ratios

total dependency ratio: 44.3%

youth dependency ratio: 30.5%

elderly dependency ratio: 13.8%

potential support ratio: 7.3% (2015 est.)

Median age

total: 33.6 years

male: 32 years

female: 35.2 years (2015 est.)

Population growth rate 157/233

0.53% (2015 est.)

Birth rate 134/224

14.52 births/1,000 population (2015 est.)

Death rate 64/225

9.21 deaths/1,000 population (2015 est.)

Net migration rate 113/222

-0.04 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2015 est.)


urban population: 60.9% of total population (2015)

rate of urbanization: 0.75% annual rate of change (2010-15 est.)

Major urban areas - population

PYONGYANG (capital) 2.863 million (2015)

Sex ratio

at birth: 1.05 male(s)/female

0-14 years: 1.03 male(s)/female

15-24 years: 1.02 male(s)/female

25-54 years: 1 male(s)/female

55-64 years: 0.9 male(s)/female

65 years and over: 0.53 male(s)/female

total population: 0.94 male(s)/female (2015 est.)

Maternal mortality rate 82/184

82 deaths/100,000 live births (2015 est.)

Infant mortality rate 74/224

total: 23.68 deaths/1,000 live births

male: 26.29 deaths/1,000 live births

female: 20.94 deaths/1,000 live births (2015 est.)

Life expectancy at birth 156/224

total population: 70.11 years

male: 66.26 years

female: 74.16 years (2015 est.)

Total fertility rate 127/224

1.97 children born/woman (2015 est.)

Contraceptive prevalence rate


note: percent of women aged 20-49 (2010)

Hospital bed density

13.2 beds/1,000 population (2012)

Drinking water source


urban: 99.9% of population

rural: 99.4% of population

total: 99.7% of population


urban: 0.1% of population

rural: 0.6% of population

total: 0.3% of population (2015 est.)

Sanitation facility access


urban: 87.9% of population

rural: 72.5% of population

total: 81.9% of population


urban: 12.1% of population

rural: 27.5% of population

total: 18.1% of population (2015 est.)

HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate


HIV/AIDS - deaths


Obesity - adult prevalence rate 173/191

2.5% (2014)

Children under the age of 5 years underweight 46/138

15.2% (2012)

Education expenditures



Country name

conventional long form: Democratic People's Republic of Korea

conventional short form: North Korea

local long form: Choson-minjujuui-inmin-konghwaguk

local short form: Choson

abbreviation: DPRK

etymology: derived from the Chinese name for Goryeo, which was the Korean dynasty that united the peninsula in the 10th century A.D.; the North Korean name "Choson" means "[land of the] morning calm"

Government type

communist state one-man dictatorship


name: Pyongyang

geographic coordinates: 39.01° N, 125.45° E

time difference: UTC+8.5 (13.5 hours ahead of Washington, DC, during Standard Time)

note: on 15 August 2015, North Korea reverted to UTC+8.5, a time zone that had been observed during pre-colonial times

Administrative divisions

9 provinces (do, singular and plural) and 2 municipalities (si, singular and plural)

provinces: Chagang-do (Chagang), Hamgyong-bukto (North Hamgyong), Hamgyong-namdo (South Hamgyong), Hwanghae-bukto (North Hwanghae), Hwanghae-namdo (South Hwanghae), Kangwon-do (Kangwon), P'yongan-bukto (North Pyongan), P'yongan-namdo (South Pyongan), Yanggang-do (Yanggang)

municipalities: Nason-si, P'yongyang-si (Pyongyang)


15 August 1945 (from Japan)

National holiday

Founding of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), 9 September (1948)


previous 1948, 1972; latest adopted 1998 (during KIM Jong Il era); revised 2009, 2012, 2013 (2015)

Legal system

civil law system based on the Prussian model; system influenced by Japanese traditions and Communist legal theory

International law organization participation

has not submitted an ICJ jurisdiction declaration; non-party state to the ICCt


citizenship by birth: no

citizenship by descent only: at least one parent must be a citizen of North Korea

dual citizenship recognized: no

residency requirement for naturalization: unknown


17 years of age; universal

Executive branch

chief of state: KIM Jong Un (since 17 December 2011)

head of government: Premier PAK Pong Ju (since 2 April 2013); Vice Premiers

cabinet: Cabinet or Naegak members appointed by the Supreme People's Assembly except the Minister of People's Armed Forces

elections/appointments: chief of state and premier indirectly elected by the Supreme People's Assembly; election last held on 9 March 2014 (next election NA)

election results: KIM Jong Un elected unopposed

note: the Korean Workers' Party continues to list deceased leaders KIM Il Sung and KIM Jong Il as Eternal President and Eternal General Secretary respectively

Legislative branch

description: unicameral Supreme People's Assembly or Ch'oego Inmin Hoeui (687 seats; members directly elected by absolute majority vote to serve 5-year terms); note - the Korean Workers' Party selects all candidates

elections: last held on 9 March 2014 (next to be held in March 2019)

election results: percent of vote by party - NA; seats by party - NA; ruling party approves a list of candidates who are elected without opposition; a token number of seats are reserved for minor parties

Judicial branch

highest court(s): Supreme Court or Central Court (consists of the chief justice and 2 "People's Assessors" and for some cases, 3 judges)

judge selection and term of office: judges elected by the Supreme People's Assembly for 5-year terms

subordinate courts: provincial, municipal, military, special courts; people' courts (lowest level)

Political parties and leaders

major party: Korean Workers' Party or KWP [KIM Jong Un]

minor parties: Chondoist Chongu Party [RYU Mi Yong] (under KWP control)

Social Democratic Party [KIM Yong Dae] (under KWP control)

Political pressure groups and leaders


International organization participation


Flag description

three horizontal bands of blue (top), red (triple width), and blue; the red band is edged in white; on the hoist side of the red band is a white disk with a red five-pointed star; the broad red band symbolizes revolutionary traditions; the narrow white bands stand for purity, strength, and dignity; the blue bands signify sovereignty, peace, and friendship; the red star represents socialism

National symbol(s)

red star, chollima (winged horse); national colors: red, white, blue

National anthem

name: "Aegukka" (Patriotic Song)

lyrics/music: PAK Se Yong/KIM Won Gyun

note: adopted 1947; both North Korea's and South Korea's anthems share the same name and have a vaguely similar melody but have different lyrics; the North Korean anthem is also known as "Ach'imun pinnara" (Let Morning Shine)


Economy - overview

North Korea, one of the world's most centrally directed and least open economies, faces chronic economic problems. Industrial capital stock is nearly beyond repair as a result of years of underinvestment, shortages of spare parts, and poor maintenance. Large-scale military spending draws off resources needed for investment and civilian consumption. Industrial and power outputs have stagnated for years at a fraction of pre-1990 levels. Frequent weather-related crop failures aggravated chronic food shortages caused by on-going systemic problems, including a lack of arable land, collective farming practices, poor soil quality, insufficient fertilization, and persistent shortages of tractors and fuel.

The mid 1990s were marked by severe famine and widespread starvation. Significant food aid was provided by the international community through 2009. Since that time, food assistance has declined significantly. In the last few years, domestic corn and rice production has been somewhat better, although domestic production does not fully satisfy demand. A large portion of the population continues to suffer from prolonged malnutrition and poor living conditions. Since 2002, the government has allowed informal markets to begin selling a wider range of goods. It also implemented changes in the management process of communal farms in an effort to boost agricultural output.

In December 2009, North Korea carried out a redenomination of its currency, capping the amount of North Korean won that could be exchanged for the new notes, and limiting the exchange to a one-week window. A concurrent crackdown on markets and foreign currency use yielded severe shortages and inflation, forcing Pyongyang to ease the restrictions by February 2010. In response to the sinking of the South Korean warship Cheonan and the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island in 2010, South Korea’s government cut off most aid, trade, and bilateral cooperation activities, with the exception of operations at the Kaesong Industrial Complex. North Korea continued efforts to develop special economic zones and expressed willingness to permit construction of a trilateral gas pipeline that would carry Russian natural gas to South Korea. North Korea is also working with Russia to refurbish North Korea’s dilapidated rail network and jointly rebuilt a link between a North Korean port in the Rason Special Economic Zone and the Russian rail network.

The North Korean government continues to stress its goal of improving the overall standard of living, but has taken few steps to make that goal a reality for its populace. In 2013-2014, the regime rolled out 20 new economic development zones - now totaling 25 - set up for foreign investors, although the initiative remains in its infancy. Firm political control remains the government’s overriding concern, which likely will inhibit changes to North Korea’s current economic system.

GDP (purchasing power parity) 113/230

$40 billion (2013 est.)

$40 billion (2012 est.)

$40 billion (2011 est.)

note: data are in 2014 US dollars;

North Korea does not publish reliable National Income Accounts data; the data shown here are derived from purchasing power parity (PPP) GDP estimates for North Korea that were made by Angus MADDISON in a study conducted for the OECD; his figure for 1999 was extrapolated to 2011 using estimated real growth rates for North Korea's GDP and an inflation factor based on the US GDP deflator; the results were rounded to the nearest $10 billion.

GDP (official exchange rate)

$28 billion (2013 est.)

GDP - real growth rate 176/225

1% (2013 est.)

NA% 1.1% (2012 est.)

1.3% (2011 est.)

GDP - per capita (PPP) 209/230

$1,800 (2013 est.)

$1,800 (2012 est.)

$1,800 (2009 est.)

note: data are in 2014 US dollars

Gross national saving


GDP - composition, by end use

exports of goods and services: 5.9%

imports of goods and services: 11.1% (2013 est.)

GDP - composition, by sector of origin

agriculture: 22%

industry: 47%

services: 31% (2015 est.)

Agriculture - products

rice, corn, potatoes, soybeans, pulses, beef, pork, eggs


military products; machine building, electric power, chemicals; mining (coal, iron ore, limestone, magnesite, graphite, copper, zinc, lead, and precious metals), metallurgy; textiles, food processing; tourism

Industrial production growth rate 148/202

1% (2015 est.)

Labor force 42/233

14 million

note: estimates vary widely (2013 est.)

Labor force - by occupation

agriculture: 37%

industry and services: 63% (2008 est.)

Unemployment rate 178/207

25.6% (2013 est.)

25.5% (2012 est.)

Population below poverty line


Household income or consumption by percentage share

lowest 10%: NA%

highest 10%: NA%


revenues: $3.2 billion

expenditures: $3.3 billion (2007 est.)

Taxes and other revenues 209/219

11.4% of GDP

note: excludes earnings from state-operated enterprises (2007 est.)

Budget surplus (+) or deficit (-) 42/220

-0.4% of GDP (2007 est.)

Fiscal year

calendar year

Inflation rate (consumer prices)


Exports 113/224

$4.4 billion (2013 est.)

$4 billion (2012 est.)

Exports - commodities

minerals, metallurgical products, manufactures (including armaments), textiles, agricultural and fishery products

Exports - partners

China 65%, South Korea 27% (2014 est.)

Imports 122/223

$5.2 billion (2013 est.)

$4.8 billion (2012 est.)

Imports - commodities

petroleum, coking coal, machinery and equipment, textiles, grain

Imports - partners

China 68%, South Korea 22% (2014 est.)

Debt - external 129/206

$5 billion (2013 est.)

Exchange rates

North Korean won (KPW) per US dollar (average market rate)

8,200 (2015 est.)

7,900 (2014 est.)

98.5 (2013 est.)

155.5 (2012 est.)

140 (2011 est.)


Electricity - production 77/220

18.76 billion kWh (2012 est.)

Electricity - consumption 77/219

16 billion kWh (2012 est.)

Electricity - exports 156/218

0 kWh (2013 est.)

Electricity - imports 166/219

0 kWh (2013 est.)

Electricity - installed generating capacity 66/214

7.243 million kW (2013 est.)

Electricity - from fossil fuels 154/214

47.4% of total installed capacity (2012 est.)

Electricity - from nuclear fuels 120/214

0% of total installed capacity (2012 est.)

Electricity - from hydroelectric plants 46/214

52.6% of total installed capacity (2012 est.)

Electricity - from other renewable sources 187/212

0% of total installed capacity (2012 est.)

Crude oil - production 152/214

0 bbl/day (2014 est.)

Crude oil - exports 146/214

0 bbl/day (2012 est.)

Crude oil - imports 51/214

70,000 bbl/day (2013 est.)

Crude oil - proved reserves 151/215

0 bbl (1 January 2015 est.)

Refined petroleum products - production 103/214

11,120 bbl/day (2012 est.)

Refined petroleum products - consumption 136/212

17,000 bbl/day (2013 est.)

Refined petroleum products - exports 191/214

0 bbl/day (2013 est.)

Refined petroleum products - imports 167/213

4,000 bbl/day (2012 est.)

Natural gas - production 206/216

0 cu m (2013 est.)

Natural gas - consumption 159/215

0 cu m (2013 est.)

Natural gas - exports 127/215

0 cu m (2013 est.)

Natural gas - imports 88/214

0 cu m (2013 est.)

Natural gas - proved reserves 155/212

0 cu m (1 January 2014 est.)

Carbon dioxide emissions from consumption of energy 64/212

45.4 million Mt (2012 est.)


Telephones - fixed lines 70/219

total subscriptions: 1.18 million

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 5 (2014 est.)

Telephones - mobile cellular 142/217

total: 2.8 million

subscriptions per 100 inhabitants: 11 (2014 est.)

Telephone system

general assessment: adequate system; nationwide fiber-optic network; mobile-cellular service expanding beyond Pyongyang

domestic: fiber-optic links installed down to the county level; telephone directories unavailable; GSM mobile-cellular service initiated in 2002 but suspended in 2004; Orascom Telecom Holding, an Egyptian company, launched W-CDMA mobile service on 15 December 2008 for the Pyongyang area, has expanded service to several large cities and now has a 1-million-person subscriber base

international: country code - 850; satellite earth stations - 2 (1 Intelsat - Indian Ocean, 1 Russian - Indian Ocean region); other international connections through Moscow and Beijing (2011)

Broadcast media

no independent media; radios and TVs are pre-tuned to government stations; 4 government-owned TV stations; the Korean Workers' Party owns and operates the Korean Central Broadcasting Station, and the state-run Voice of Korea operates an external broadcast service; the government prohibits listening to and jams foreign broadcasts (2008)

Radio broadcast stations

AM 17 (including 11 stations of Korean Central Broadcasting Station; North Korea has a "national intercom" cable radio station wired throughout the country that is a significant source of information for the average North Korean citizen; it is wired into most residences and workplaces and carries news and commentary), FM 14, shortwave 14 (2006)

Television broadcast stations

4 (includes Korean Central Television, Mansudae Television, Korean Educational and Cultural Network, and Kaesong Television targeting South Korea) (2003)

Internet country code


Internet hosts 226/232

8 (2012)


Airports 67/236

82 (2013)

Airports - with paved runways

total: 39

over 3,047 m: 3

2,438 to 3,047 m: 22

1,524 to 2,437 m: 8

914 to 1,523 m: 2

under 914 m: 4 (2013)

Airports - with unpaved runways

total: 43

2,438 to 3,047 m: 3

1,524 to 2,437 m: 17

914 to 1,523 m: 15

under 914 m: 8 (2013)


23 (2013)


oil 6 km (2013)

Railways 33/136

total: 7,435 km

standard gauge: 7,435 km 1.435-m gauge (5,400 km electrified)

note: figures are approximate; some narrow-gauge railway also exists (2014)

Roadways 100/223

total: 25,554 km

paved: 724 km

unpaved: 24,830 km (2006)

Waterways 38/107

2,250 km (most navigable only by small craft) (2011)

Merchant marine 37/156

total: 158

by type: bulk carrier 6, cargo 131, carrier 1, chemical tanker 1, container 4, passenger/cargo 1, petroleum tanker 12, refrigerated cargo 2

foreign-owned: 13 (Belgium 1, China 3, Nigeria 1, Singapore 1, South Korea 1, Syria 4, UAE 2)

registered in other countries: 6 (Mongolia 1, Sierra Leone 2, unknown 3) (2010)

Ports and terminals

major seaport(s): Ch'ongjin, Haeju, Hungnam (Hamhung), Namp'o, Senbong, Songnim, Sonbong (formerly Unggi), Wonsan

Military and Security

Military branches

North Korean People's Army: Ground Forces, Navy, Air Force; civil security forces (2005)

Military service age and obligation

18 is presumed to be the legal minimum age for compulsory military service; 16-17 is the presumed legal minimum age for voluntary service (2012)

Transnational Issues

Disputes - international

risking arrest, imprisonment, and deportation, tens of thousands of North Koreans cross into China to escape famine, economic privation, and political oppression; North Korea and China dispute the sovereignty of certain islands in Yalu and Tumen rivers; Military Demarcation Line within the 4-km-wide Demilitarized Zone has separated North from South Korea since 1953; periodic incidents in the Yellow Sea with South Korea which claims the Northern Limiting Line as a maritime boundary; North Korea supports South Korea in rejecting Japan's claim to Liancourt Rocks (Tok-do/Take-shima)

Refugees and internally displaced persons

IDPs: undetermined (periodic flooding and famine during mid-1990s) (2007)

Illicit drugs

for years, from the 1970s into the 2000s, citizens of the Democratic People's Republic of (North) Korea (DPRK), many of them diplomatic employees of the government, were apprehended abroad while trafficking in narcotics, including two in Turkey in December 2004; police investigations in Taiwan and Japan in recent years have linked North Korea to large illicit shipments of heroin and methamphetamine, including an attempt by the North Korean merchant ship Pong Su to deliver 150 kg of heroin to Australia in April 2003