North Korea's New Diplomacy. Challenging Political Isolation in the 21st Century

By Ene, Marilena Veronica | Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review, July 1, 2018 | Go to article overview

North Korea's New Diplomacy. Challenging Political Isolation in the 21st Century


Ene, Marilena Veronica, Studia Politica; Romanian Political Science Review


VIRGINIE GRZELCZYK North Korea's New Diplomacy. Challenging Political Isolation in the 21st Century Palgrave Macmillan, United Kingdom, 2018, 248 pp.

Dr. Virginie Grzelczyk is currently a Lecturer in international Relations at Aston University UK. Her research topics have focused on Northeast Asia, especially on the Korean space, dealing with issues like the security paradigm in the Korean Peninsula, the process of the Six Party Talks, the North-Korean Security Dilemma, the Korean identity in the context of reunification and the concept of crisis in the Northeast Asian context.

In the last two decades, Northeast Asia has become the most technologically developed, revolutionary enterprising and fast growing economic region in the world, hosting the biggest economic powers in the world in terms of their GDP with China which is now on the 2nd place, Japan on the 3 rd place and South Korea on the 13th place1. This region is once again in the top position of the global rankings in what concerns the number of army soldiers, the number of available manpower and the military equipment, techniques and specialists. States like China, Japan, South Korea, or North Korea are in the top twenty states of the world with the highest numbers of military personnel and available manpower.2 From a geopolitical, diplomatic perspective the AsiaPacific region hosts the biggest powers in the world in a direct and close neighborhood: Russia, China, and the United States across the ocean.

Bearing all these aspects in mind, as well as the current context of geopolitics under the Donald Trump administration, there have been only a few authors (Andrei Lankov, Daniel Tudor and James Pearson3) in the field, that focused their attention on the way in which Kim Jong Un's regime has shaped the diplomatic agenda of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK). What is different about Kim Jong Un's regime shaped the agenda in a way focused on North Korea itself and not on an external perspective from the US's, Japanese, South-Korean or Chinese point of view.

In her book, North Korea's New Diplomacy. Challenging Political Isolation in the 21st Century, Virginie Grzelczyk is moving away from the regular literature in this field that is mostly focused on depicting North Korea as a state on the brink of collapse, as a dystopian reality, as a state led by a foul, mad man who is capable of doing anything. Virginie Grzelczyk provides the readers with an empirical analysis of several variables of the state's external policy taking into account the historical evolution during and after the Cold War, the military partnerships, the trade relations, the sanctions mechanisms, the foreign investments practices, the diplomatic recognitions and the engagements with the Global South.

The idea that is at the core of this volume starts from the argument of Hazel Smith, who, in her article "Bad/Mad/Sad/Rational Actor", published in the 2000s4 has proposed a shift in the paradigm of North Korean studies, by moving on from the Cold War perspective and stereotypes about the DPRK and taking into account a more frank discussion and constructive engagement when it comes to DPRK's large scale policy' involvement with the international community.

The main question of Grzelczyk's book is: How is North Korea still surviving? And the answers that are provided go beyond the security approach and are the result of an analysis of DPRK based on the rational actor theory. To answer this question, the book is structured into seven chapters: (1) Why the Need to Reevaluate North Korea? (2) Friends and Foes: An Orthodox Story; (3) Nothing but words? - Rhetoric and Beyond; (4) Securing Freedom; (5) Navigating Interdependence; (6) The DPRK and the Politics of Mainstreaming; and (7) Conclusion: Fostering Cooperation in a Multipolar World.

In her analysis, Virginie Grzelczyk looks not only into state-actors, and interactions, such as the inter-Korean relationship and the traditional friends and foes like Russia (USSR), the People's Republic of China and Japan, or the USA, but also into other diplomatic partners of the DPRK such as: Iran, Ethiopia, Gambia, Indonesia, Namibia, Honduras, Angola and Fiji. …

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