In his official statement following North Korea’s release from prison of a Canadian pastor, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau thanked his security adviser, who led the Canadian delegation to North Korea and … Sweden.
Why Sweden, you ask?
As Trudeau put it, the Nordic country is Canada’s “protecting power” in North Korea, a not uncommon diplomatic relationship that exists when one country (in this case, Canada) doesn’t have a diplomatic mission in another (North Korea, in this case).
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Canada recognizes North Korea, but describes it as an authoritarian state with dynastic government. Diplomatic ties between the countries were established in 2001, but short-lived, and neither country built an embassy before ties were cut in 2010.
Though Canada recommends against it, travel with a Canadian passport to North Korea is not prohibited. However, considering North Korea’s “highly repressive regime,” as Global Affairs Canada has put it, tourists can easily find themselves on the wrong side of the law and in need of consular assistance.
With severed diplomatic ties and no embassy in North Korea, though, Canada has designated Sweden as its protecting power.
“There is no resident Canadian government office in the country. The ability of Canadian officials to provide consular assistance in North Korea is extremely limited,” the federal government warns online.
Six Canadians were registered as of Aug. 3 with Ottawa as being in North Korea, Global Affairs Canada said.
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Establishing protective powers
Both the host and protected state have to agree on which country will provide services – ideally, it is a relatively neutral country that has diplomatic ties with both countries.
After Canada shuttered its Iranian embassy in Tehran and ordered all Iranian diplomats to leave Canada, the government turned to Italy.
Days later, Italy’s foreign minister announced his government would protect Canadian interests in Iran.
In North Korea, Sweden carries out most of the diplomatic functions not only for Canada, but also for the United States and Australia.
But the U.S. State Department warned American citizens this week that North Korea still “routinely delays or denies” consular access even when the Swedish Embassy makes the request.
At least 16 U.S. citizens have been detained in North Korea in the past ten years, according to the U.S. State Department.