Volvo cars, which today are over 40 years old, are still largely rolling in North Korea. What makes the debt even more unique, however, is that it is Sweden's largest claim against a single country.
"The claim was originally at SEK 600 million ($67mln), and from a number of companies. The most discussed deal was Volvo cars, whereas other exporters were Atlas Copco, Asea, Kockums, Alfa Laval and several small companies," Carina Kampe at the Export Credit Commission told the Swedish national broadcaster SVT.
When the Korean War ended in 1953, Swedish companies grew hopeful that there was money to earn in North Korea, which greased diplomatic contacts. In April 1973, Sweden became the first Western country to recognize the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea. Subsequently, goods were ordered and delivered, but no payments came. In addition to the Volvo cars, North Korean leader Kim Il-sung also purchased ship equipment from Asea and mining machines from Atlas Copco. The Swedish companies that never got paid forced the Swedish government to act, which eventually led to the Swedish embassy in Pyongyang being established, again as the first western country. This did not help to resolve the debt, and the bills simply keep piling up.
"The Export Credit Committee established an agreement with North Korea, where the debt was stipulated. Twice a year, the committee notifies of payment under the agreement. For the most part, we get no response," Carina Kampe told SVT.
Pak Yun Sik explained that the situation in North Korea has been difficult for a long time, with the economy not rising as expected. While parts of the North Korean population experienced starvation the 1990s, Pak Yun Sik assured that the situation was much better now, which is why his country was open for further cooperation with Sweden.
"I think that if we have closer cooperation in the economic and cultural areas, then we will be able to resolve the problems in the future," Pak Yun Sik told SVT.
In 2008, North Korean state radio called Sweden an "American puppet" and an enemy of the People's Republic. Still, the debt to these "imperialists" remains unsettled.
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