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South Korea’s Pursuit of Closer Ties: The Importance of EU Engagement on the Korean Peninsula

Written by Raphaël Degraeve and Federico Cafarella

Edited by Stef Clement

Supervised by Paul Dybjer

The relationship between the European Union (EU) and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, commonly known as North Korea) has mostly been characterised by tension, limited engagement and strained diplomatic ties. Although the DPRK has embassies in most European countries, the relationship remains largely formal and marked by infrequent high-level interactions (EEAS, 2022). The EU has consistently condemned the DPRK’s unlawful weapons programmes and called for the complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula in line with the international community’s stance (Council of the European Union, 2023). Direct diplomatic engagement between the EU and the DPRK has been limited and there have been few substantial efforts to improve relations or foster dialogue.

In contrast, the Republic of Korea (ROK, or South Korea) has established closer ties and engaged extensively with EU members (Reuters, 2023). The country expanded trade and diplomatic relations with various EU member states, promoting economic cooperation, cultural exchanges and political dialogue. While the DPRK’s isolation and provocative actions hinder its relations with the EU, the ROK’s active engagement and alignment with EU principles foster a more constructive and multifaceted partnership (Gracianteparaluceta, 2023). South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol’s participation in the 2023 NATO summit in Lithuania showcases this proactive role (Reuters, 2023). President Yoon is looking for the EU’s support in enhancing international security cooperation in response to growing threats from North Korea and tensions related to China. While pressure on the ROK to provide weapons to Ukraine persists, Yoon’s administration remains cautious given Russia’s influence over the DPRK, with Pyongyang recently affirming its support for Moscow, both logistically and politically (Shin, 2023).