North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Photo: Reuters

North Korea wants to set up a new embassy in Canberra, possibly signalling the hermit state's intention under its young leader Kim Jong-un to inch towards greater engagement with the world.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Foreign Affairs confirmed on Tuesday that the government had received a request from the rogue nation to re-open its embassy, which was abruptly closed in January 2008.

The Gillard government does not oppose the move, though it comes as Australia pushes to step up international sanctions on North Korea because of its recent suspected test of a missile that could carry nuclear warheads.

Foreign Minister Bob Carr on Tuesday branded the regime's network of concentration camps ''the greatest affront to human rights on the planet''. ''You're looking at a gulag system - a network of vast concentration camps in which . . . there are executions, there's starvation, there are people in prison for life,'' he told ABC radio.

There have been some signs that Kim Jong-un - who inherited the title of Supreme Leader on his father Kim Jong-il's death just over a year ago - may be making tentative steps towards liberalisation.

Labor MP Michael Danby, who chairs the Australian Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, said the plan to re-establish a mission in Canberra could be ''part of the mysterious small steps by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to engage with the international community''.

Even so, North Korea surprised the international community in December by launching a long-range rocket that put a satellite into orbit, which many experts saw as a cover for testing ballistic missile technology.

A spokeswoman for the department said the government did ''not oppose the reopening of the embassy, which would provide a channel to Pyongyang to convey messages of importance to Australia, including on [North Korea's] nuclear and missile activities and human rights''.

North Korea closed its previous embassy about five years after opening it, saying it could not afford to run it. It previously had an embassy for about a year in the mid-1970s.

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