Academic journal article North Korean Review

Small-Power Diplomacy in Northeast Asia: Mongolian-North Korean Relations during the Cold War, 1948-1989

Academic journal article North Korean Review

Small-Power Diplomacy in Northeast Asia: Mongolian-North Korean Relations during the Cold War, 1948-1989

Article excerpt

Introduction

To date, the history of Mongolian-DPRK relations has remained a marginal topic in Korean, Mongolian, and Cold War studies. The majority of the relevant English publications, focused as they were on Mongolia's recent efforts to facilitate a peaceful resolution of the North Korean nuclear crisis and to assist the North Korean refugees who entered the country via China, made only brief references to the decades when both countries were ruled by Communist regimes.1 Their authors usually regarded the latter era as a "period of ideology-driven friendship,"2 a view shared by Jamiyan Battur (whose historical overview of Mongolian-DPRK relations provided many concrete examples of economic cooperation and humanitarian assistance) and Kolyagiin Demberel (whose conference paper, presented in Mongolian, examined Kim Il Sung's 1988 visit on the basis of Mongolian archival sources).3 The Mongolian archival files that Sergey Radchenko and Onon Perenlei obtained and translated for the Woodrow Wilson Center's North Korea International Documentation Project (NKIDP) are more or less in accordance with this narrative.

Nevertheless, the very importance of ideology in Mongolian and North Korean policies could stimulate not only cooperation but also friction between Ulaanbaatar and Pyongyang if the ideological preferences of the two ruling parties-the Mongolian People's Revolutionary Party (MPRP) and the Korean Workers' Party (KWP)-did not match each other. These ideological divergences were usually reflections of the Sino-Soviet split, but in the sphere of economic relations, the specific national interests of the two countries also came into conflict. Thus the pre-1990 evolution of Mongolian-DPRK relations underwent several phases, fluctuating between cooperation and tension. This article seeks to examine the factors that caused the aforesaid shifts, placing the bilateral partnership into the broader context of Soviet-North Korean, Sino-DPRK, Soviet-Mongolian, and Mongolian-South Korean relations.

To provide a new insight into the dynamics of Mongolian-DPRK relations, the author of this article examined the reports, memoranda, and telegrams written by the Hungarian Communist diplomats accredited to Pyongyang and Ulaanbaatar (1950-1989). These declassified documents, which are currently stored in the Hungarian National Archives (Magyar Nemzeti Levéltár, MNL), reveal many hitherto unpublished incidents and disputes between the two Communist regimes. At the time of their occurrence, these events were rarely, if at all, covered in the controlled North Korean and Mongolian media, since neither the KWP leaders nor their Mongolian counterparts found it advantageous to divulge them. Eager as they were to highlight their resistance to bullying big powers (the United States and China, respectively), they probably concluded that a public quarrel with another small Socialist state would hardly improve their international image. Behind the scenes, however, the Mongolian diplomats regularly informed their Soviet and East European colleagues about their conflicts with the DPRK. Thanks to this practice of information sharing, the Hungarian documents, for the time being, may provide a more comprehensive picture of these episodes than the sources hitherto examined by researchers.

To be sure, the information the Mongolian officials shared with the Hungarian diplomats was by no means devoid of ideological biases. The MPRP leaders habitually sided with Moscow against Pyongyang, and their critical comments on North Korea's political standpoint were usually inspired by the view that any sort of ideological deviation from the Soviet position (like Kim Il Sung's juche idea) was ipso facto erroneous and harmful. Thus the Hungarian reports drew a somewhat one-sided picture about the Mongolian-DPRK relationship, all the more so because North Korean officials showed little readiness to provide Soviet bloc diplomats with confidential information about their interactions with Ulaanbaatar. …

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