Without warning, North Korea has decided to close its embassy in Canberra by the end of the month. In future, all commercial, economic, political, cultural and visa affairs affecting Australia will be handled by the North Korean Embassy in Jakarta.
The decision by Comrade Kim Jong-il’s Democratic People’s Republic of Korea to shut its embassy in the Canberra suburb of O’Malley has caught the Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade by surprise. No official explanation has been given for the closure to be followed by the departure of four accredited diplomats and their partners. Relations between Australia and North Korea have always been fragile.
The Whitlam Government established diplomatic ties with Pyongyang in 1974 and an embassy for envoys of the late Kim Il-sung was opened in December that year. But relations were shattered the following year when Australia’s “point man” supervising contacts with North Korea was none other than Mandarin-speaking Kevin Rudd, then serving as first secretary in our embassy in Beijing.
Writing in the Labor Herald on 16 October, 2006, Rudd, then the shadow foreign affairs minister, gave a graphic account of the 1975 diplomatic bust-up which saw North Korean close its Canberra embassy and recall its diplomats and Australia retaliate a few days later: The ordinary citizens of North Korea are caught in an Orwellian nightmare by Kevin Rudd.
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Mystery still surrounds what happened in the middle months of that year (1975) and, as with so many other things in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, we will probably never know.
With barely a few hours’ notice, our happy band of diplomats in the North Korean capital was declared persona non grata and effectively frogmarched to the railway station for a speedy exit to Beijing.
It remains one of the most puzzling episodes of Australia’s diplomatic history why the North Korean embassy in Canberra one day got up and left and why our diplomats were so unceremoniously booted out.
He concluded the article with a vehement denunciation of the North Korean Stalinist regime:
It truly is the world of George Orwell’s 1984: the proclamation of self-reliance in a sea of starvation. A Democratic Republic of Korea when there is no democracy to be seen. Twenty-three million fellow human beings deserve much, much better than the hand history has dealt them.
During the horrendous Howard/Downer years, Australia did Washington’s bidding and kept open a diplomatic corridor to the North Koreans. It proved to be a useful avenue of communication in the dangerous period of Kim Jong-il’s nuclear testing and other madnesses. Now that corridor has been blocked and the North Koreans are exiting Canberra.
Thinking aloud: is this diplomatic dummy-spit related in any way to the election of Prime Minister Rudd, an old adversary who has a record of aggressively taunting the dictatorship north of the DMZ?