North Korea has prided itself over the years on remaining relatively detached from the international community.
During the Cold War, for instance, it refused to become a cog in the Soviet trading system that would have relegated it to supplying raw materials to and purchasing finished products from the imperial center. Instead, it remained economically independent and invested in manufacturing its own products.
When South Korea decided to tie its own economy to global capitalism, becoming a major exporting power, North Korea kept its distance from international finance. It created a special economic zone in the northeast of the country, changed its laws to facilitate foreign investment, and organized trade fairs to sell its products to the world’s customers. Eventually, as a result of the collapse of the state distribution system, it even tolerated private markets within the country.
But the regime eyed the free market warily, anxious that it would undermine the authority of the central government. It made accommodations to capitalism, but only on its own terms.
Geopolitically, North Korea has also avoided entangling alliances. It maintains fraternal relations with China but has repeatedly disregarded Chinese advice and bristled at Chinese pressure. Ditto with Russia. No country has been allowed to impinge on North Korea’s sovereignty.