North Korean leader Kim Jong-il was the unchallenged head of the reclusive state whose economy fell deeper into poverty during his years in power. He vexed the world by developing a nuclear arms programme and arsenal of missiles aimed to hit neighbours Japan and South Korea. Kim's death and the rise of his son, Kim Jong-un, raise many questions about the future of North Korea. Here are a few facts about North Korea and recent events.
Ties with China
Communist China was a key backer of North Korean Communist forces in the Korean War and sent soldiers across the border from October 1950. China continued to support North Korea following the armistice, and in 1961 the two signed a treaty that calls for either to aid the other if attacked. It remains in force but its potential application is ambiguous. After China's rapprochement with the West then its establishment of formal diplomatic ties with South Korea in 1992, ties between Beijing and Pyongyang frayed.
In October 2006, North Korea held its first nuclear test explosion, defying public pleas from China. Beijing condemned the test and supported a UN Security Council resolution that authorised sanctions against North Korea. It backed more sanctions after North Korea's second test in May 2009.
China's trade and aid are crucial to North Korea's survival. In 2010, trade between China and North Korea was worth US$3.5 billion (Dh12.8bn), up 29.6 per cent from 2009, according to Chinese customs statistics. China's imports from North Korea in 2010 grew by 50.6 per cent to $1.2bn and its exports to North Korea grew 20.8 per cent to $2.3bn. In 2010, China's bilateral trade with South Korea was worth $207.2bn, according to Chinese statistics. North Korea has dramatically increased its economic cooperation with China over the past two years to surmount international sanctions imposed for its nuclear and missile tests in 2009 and growing estrangement from South Korea.
North Korea's 24 million people have over the years suffered severely from food shortages, with the result that North Koreans are expected to live 11 years less than the average South Korean, due mainly to malnutrition.
China's 1,415 kilometre border with North Korea includes stretches of rivers that freeze over in winter. In past years, many North Korean refugees have crossed over, sometimes making their way to other countries and then to South Korea. Outside groups have earlier estimated their numbers to be from tens of thousands to 300,000.