East & Southeast Asia :: Korea, North
page last updated on August 3, 2010
Flag of Korea, North
Map of Korea, North
Introduction ::Korea, North
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's son, the current ruler 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. After decades of economic mismanagement and resource misallocation, the DPRK since the mid-1990s has relied heavily on international aid to feed its population. 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 and 2009, and massive conventional armed forces are of major concern to the international community.
Geography ::Korea, North
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
Map references:
total: 120,538 sq km
country comparison to the world: 98
land: 120,408 sq km
water: 130 sq km
Area - comparative:
slightly smaller than Mississippi
Land boundaries:
total: 1,673 km
border countries: China 1,416 km, South Korea 238 km, Russia 19 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
Current Weather
temperate with rainfall concentrated in summer
mostly hills and mountains separated by deep, narrow valleys; coastal plains wide in west, discontinuous in east
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:
arable land: 22.4%
permanent crops: 1.66%
other: 75.94% (2005)
Irrigated land:
14,600 sq km (2003)
Total renewable water resources:
77.1 cu km (1999)
Freshwater withdrawal (domestic/industrial/agricultural):
total: 9.02 cu km/yr (20%/25%/55%)
per capita: 401 cu m/yr (2000)
Natural hazards:
late spring droughts often followed by severe flooding; occasional typhoons during the early fall
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 ::Korea, North
22,757,275 (July 2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 50
Age structure:
0-14 years: 20.9% (male 2,410,911/female 2,347,849)
15-64 years: 69.4% (male 7,823,612/female 7,980,781)
65 years and over: 9.6% (male 858,034/female 1,336,088) (2010 est.)
Median age:
total: 33.9 years
male: 32.5 years
female: 35.2 years (2010 est.)
Population growth rate:
0.389% (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 163
Birth rate:
14.58 births/1,000 population (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 141
Death rate:
10.6 deaths/1,000 population (July 2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 50
Net migration rate:
-0.09 migrant(s)/1,000 population (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 94
urban population: 63% of total population (2008)
rate of urbanization: 0.9% annual rate of change (2005-10 est.)
Sex ratio:
at birth: 1.06 male(s)/female
under 15 years: 1.03 male(s)/female
15-64 years: 0.98 male(s)/female
65 years and over: 0.64 male(s)/female
total population: 0.95 male(s)/female (2010 est.)
Infant mortality rate:
total: 50.15 deaths/1,000 live births
country comparison to the world: 51
male: 57.39 deaths/1,000 live births
female: 42.47 deaths/1,000 live births (2010 est.)
Life expectancy at birth:
total population: 64.13 years
country comparison to the world: 170
male: 61.53 years
female: 66.89 years (2010 est.)
Total fertility rate:
1.94 children born/woman (2010 est.)
country comparison to the world: 135
HIV/AIDS - adult prevalence rate:
HIV/AIDS - people living with HIV/AIDS:
HIV/AIDS - deaths:
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
definition: age 15 and over can read and write
total population: 99%
male: 99%
female: 99%
Education expenditures:
Government ::Korea, North
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
Government type:
Communist state one-man dictatorship
name: Pyongyang
geographic coordinates: 39 01 N, 125 45 E
time difference: UTC+9 (14 hours ahead of Washington, DC during Standard Time)
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 P'yongan), P'yongan-namdo (South P'yongan), Yanggang-do (Yanggang)
municipalities: Nason-si, P'yongyang-si
15 August 1945 (from Japan)
National holiday:
Founding of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), 9 September (1948)
adopted 1948; revised several times most recently in 2009
Legal system:
based on Prussian civil law system with Japanese influences and Communist legal theory; no judicial review of legislative acts; has not accepted compulsory ICJ jurisdiction
17 years of age; universal
Executive branch:
chief of state: KIM Jong Il (since July 1994); note - on 9 April 2009, rubberstamp Supreme People's Assembly (SPA) reelected KIM Jong Il chairman of the National Defense Commission, a position accorded nation's "highest administrative authority"; SPA reelected KIM Yong Nam in 2009 president of its Presidium also with responsibility of representing state and receiving diplomatic credentials
head of government: Premier CHOE Yong Rim (since 7 June 2010); Vice Premier HAN Kwang Bok (since 7 June 2010), Vice Premier JO Pyong Ju (since 7 June 2010), Vice Premier JON Ha Chol (since 7 June 2010), Vice Premier KANG Nung Su (since 7 June 2010), Vice Premier KIM Rak Hui (since 7 June 2010), Vice Premier PAK Su Gil (since 18 September 2009), Vice Premier RI Thae Nam (since 7 June 2010); Vice Premier RO Tu Chol (since 3 September 2003)
cabinet: Naegak (cabinet) members, except for Minister of People's Armed Forces, are appointed by SPA
(For more information visit the World Leaders website Opens in New Window)
elections: last election held in September 2003; date of next election NA
election results: KIM Jong Il and KIM Yong Nam were only nominees for positions and ran unopposed
Legislative branch:
unicameral Supreme People's Assembly or Ch'oego Inmin Hoeui (687 seats; members elected by popular vote to serve five-year terms)
elections: last held on 8 March 2009 (next to be held in March 2014)
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:
Central Court (judges are elected by the Supreme People's Assembly)
Political parties and leaders:
major party - Korean Workers' Party or KWP [KIM Jong Il]; 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:
Diplomatic representation in the US:
none; North Korea has a Permanent Mission to the UN in New York
Diplomatic representation from the US:
none; note - Swedish Embassy in Pyongyang represents the US as consular protecting power
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 stands for purity, strength, and dignity; the blue bands signify sovereignty, peace, and friendship; the red star represents socialism
Economy ::Korea, North
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 and shortages of spare parts. Large-scale military spending draws off resources needed for investment and civilian consumption. Industrial and power output have declined in parallel from pre-1990 levels. Severe flooding in the summer of 2007 aggravated chronic food shortages caused by on-going systemic problems including a lack of arable land, collective farming practices, and persistent shortages of tractors and fuel. Large-scale international food aid deliveries have allowed the people of North Korea to escape widespread starvation since famine threatened in 1995, but the population continues to suffer from prolonged malnutrition and poor living conditions. Since 2002, the government has allowed private "farmers' markets" to begin selling a wider range of goods. It also permitted some private farming - on an experimental basis - in an effort to boost agricultural output. In October 2005, the government tried to reverse some of these policies by forbidding private sales of grains and reinstituting a centralized food rationing system. By December 2005, the government terminated most international humanitarian assistance operations in North Korea (calling instead for developmental assistance only) and restricted the activities of remaining international and non-governmental aid organizations such as the World Food Program. In May 2008, the US agreed to give 500,000 metric tons of food to North Korea via the World Food Program and US nongovernmental organizations; Pyongyang began receiving these shipments in mid-2008, but in March 2009 rejected additional US aid shipments. The economy probably grew in 2009 as a result of favorable climate conditions and energy assistance from other countries. 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. Firm political control remains the Communist government's overriding concern, which will likely inhibit the loosening of economic regulations.
GDP (purchasing power parity):
$40 billion (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 97
$40 billion (2008 est.)
$40 billion (2007 est.)
note: data are in 2009 US dollars
Korea does not publish any reliable National Income Accounts data; the data shown here is 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 2009 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):
$28.2 billion (2009 est.)
GDP - real growth rate:
3.7% (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 47
3.7% (2008 est.)
-2.3% (2007 est.)
GDP - per capita (PPP):
$1,900 (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 188
$1,800 (2008 est.)
$1,800 (2007 est.)
note: data are in 2009 US dollars
GDP - composition by sector:
agriculture: 23.3%
industry: 43.1%
services: 33.6% (2002 est.)
Labor force:
20 million
country comparison to the world: 31
note: estimates vary widely (2004 est.)
Labor force - by occupation:
agriculture: 37%
industry and services: 63% (2004 est.)
Unemployment rate:
Population below poverty line:
Household income or consumption by percentage share:
lowest 10%: NA%
highest 10%: NA%
revenues: $2.88 billion
expenditures: $2.98 billion (2005)
Inflation rate (consumer prices):
Agriculture - products:
rice, corn, potatoes, soybeans, pulses; cattle, pigs, 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:
Electricity - production:
20.9 billion kWh (2007 est.)
country comparison to the world: 70
Electricity - consumption:
17.49 billion kWh (2007 est.)
country comparison to the world: 72
Electricity - exports:
0 kWh (2008 est.)
Electricity - imports:
0 kWh (2008 est.)
Oil - production:
92.99 bbl/day (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 111
Oil - consumption:
16,000 bbl/day (2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 136
Oil - exports:
0 bbl/day (2007 est.)
country comparison to the world: 190
Oil - imports:
13,890 bbl/day (2007 est.)
country comparison to the world: 130
Oil - proved reserves:
0 bbl
country comparison to the world: 164
Natural gas - production:
0 cu m (2008 est.)
country comparison to the world: 171
Natural gas - consumption:
0 cu m (2008 est.)
country comparison to the world: 124
Natural gas - exports:
0 cu m (2008 est.)
country comparison to the world: 80
Natural gas - imports:
0 cu m (2008 est.)
country comparison to the world: 156
Natural gas - proved reserves:
0 cu m (1 January 2009 est.)
country comparison to the world: 156
$2.062 billion (2008)
country comparison to the world: 127
$1.684 billion (2007)
Exports - commodities:
minerals, metallurgical products, manufactures (including armaments), textiles, agricultural and fishery products
$3.574 billion (2008)
country comparison to the world: 130
$3.055 billion (2007)
Imports - commodities:
petroleum, coking coal, machinery and equipment, textiles, grain
Debt - external:
$12.5 billion (2001 est.)
country comparison to the world: 76
Exchange rates:
North Korean won (KPW) per US dollar (market rate) - 3,630 (December 2008)
North Korean won (KPW) per US dollar (official rate) - 140 (2007), 141 (2006), 170 (December 2004)
Communications ::Korea, North
Telephones - main lines in use:
1.18 million (2008)
country comparison to the world: 71
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; mobile-cellular service, initiated in 2002, suspended in 2004; Orascom Telecom, an Egyptian company, launched mobile service on December 15, 2008 for the Pyongyang area with plans to expand nationwide
international: country code - 850; satellite earth stations - 2 (1 Intelsat - Indian Ocean, 1 Russian - Indian Ocean region); other international connections through Moscow and Beijing (2009)
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:
3 (2009)
country comparison to the world: 227
Transportation ::Korea, North
79 (2009)
country comparison to the world: 70
Airports - with paved runways:
total: 37
over 3,047 m: 2
2,438 to 3,047 m: 22
1,524 to 2,437 m: 8
914 to 1,523 m: 1
under 914 m: 4 (2009)
Airports - with unpaved runways:
total: 42
2,438 to 3,047 m: 3
1,524 to 2,437 m: 17
914 to 1,523 m: 14
under 914 m: 8 (2009)
22 (2009)
oil 154 km (2009)
total: 5,235 km
country comparison to the world: 35
standard gauge: 5,235 km 1.435-m gauge (3,500 km electrified) (2006)
total: 25,554 km
country comparison to the world: 104
paved: 724 km
unpaved: 24,830 km (2006)
2,250 km; (most navigable only by small craft) (2008)
country comparison to the world: 39
Merchant marine:
total: 167
country comparison to the world: 39
by type: bulk carrier 11, cargo 121, carrier 1, chemical tanker 4, container 3, passenger/cargo 3, petroleum tanker 19, refrigerated cargo 4, roll on/roll off 1
foreign-owned: 19 (Egypt 1, Greece 1, Lebanon 1, Lithuania 1, Romania 4, Syria 1, UAE 8, Yemen 2)
registered in other countries: 2 (Mongolia 1, Panama 1) (2008)
Ports and terminals:
Ch'ongjin, Haeju, Hungnam (Hamhung), Kimch'aek, Kosong, Najin, Namp'o, Sinuiju, Songnim, Sonbong (formerly Unggi), Ungsang, Wonsan
Military ::Korea, North
Military branches:
North Korean People's Army: Ground Forces, Navy, Air Force; civil security forces (2005)
Military service age and obligation:
17 years of age (2004)
Manpower available for military service:
males age 16-49: 6,132,987
females age 16-49: 6,119,405 (2010 est.)
Manpower fit for military service:
males age 16-49: 4,127,999
females age 16-49: 4,522,707 (2010 est.)
Manpower reaching militarily significant age annually:
male: 184,631
female: 178,565 (2010 est.)
Military expenditures:
Transnational Issues ::Korea, North
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 (flooding in mid-2007 and famine during mid-1990s) (2007)
Trafficking in persons:
current situation: North Korea is a source country for men, women, and children trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and commercial sexual exploitation; the most common form of trafficking involves North Korean women and girls who cross the border into China voluntarily; additionally, North Korean women and girls are lured out of North Korea to escape poor social and economic conditions by the promise of food, jobs, and freedom, only to be forced into prostitution, marriage, or exploitative labor arrangements once in China
tier rating: Tier 3 - North Korea does not fully comply with minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking and is not making significant efforts to do so; the government does not acknowledge the existence of human rights abuses in the country or recognize trafficking, either within the country or transnationally; North Korea has not ratified the 2000 UN TIP Protocol (2008)
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

Source: The World Factbook (CIA)