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North Korea is Already Casting its Vote for Trump

By Kyle Ferrier

The 2020 U.S. presidential campaign is just getting underway. While we should expect plenty of mudslinging in the coming months, it will hopefully be more congenial than Pyongyang’s latest statement about the race.

North Korea lambasted former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden this week in response to his comments on its leader Kim Jong-un. At a May 18th rally in Philadelphia, Biden, the democratic frontrunner, asked, “Are we a nation that embraces dictators and tyrants like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and Kim Jong Un?”

Though Biden’s comments were meant to criticize U.S. President Trump’s foreign policy, Pyongyang seemed to take it personally. The Korea Central News Agency issued a statement on Tuesday going after Biden’s character and political record, calling him an “imbecile bereft of elementary quality as a human being.” The article highlighted potential challenges to his election stemming from his past, including references to concerns raised in the #MeToo movement and plagiarism. Among other harsh words, the piece accused Biden of “insult[ing] the supreme leadership of the DPRK,” stating “we will never pardon anyone who dare provoke the supreme leadership of the DPRK but will certainly make them pay for it.”

As harsh as this may be, these sort of attacks are nothing new. North Korea has a history of commenting on U.S. presidential elections, often voicing their opinions on candidates. The KCNA article’s familiarity with the issues surrounding Biden’s electability emphasizes just how important who sits in the White House is to Pyongyang.

There is also at least some evidence from recent elections to suggest that North Korea has a preference for candidates espousing a willingness to talk directly to Pyongyang:

  • During the 2004 race between President George W. Bush and then-Senator John Kerry, North Korean media seemingly preferred Kerry[1]who favored direct bilateral talks with Pyongyang – over Bush – who famously included the state in his “axis of evil.”
  • In 2008, an article published by the Chosen Soren praised the eventual winner Barack Obama’s willingness to meet with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il without conditions, calling Senator John McCain “a children’s version of Bush.”
  • In 2012, North Korea did not publicly offer support for either major party candidate, and neither candidate wanted to pursue direct talks with Kim Jong-un.
  • During the 2016 race, the state tourism website DPRK Today ran an editorial praising Trump not long after he expressed his willingness to speak with Kim Jong-un.

Despite recent tensions between the two countries since the Hanoi summit collapsed, North Korean leadership is probably thinking Trump is their best bet to keep talks going with the least number of preconditions. It would be surprising if Pyongyang came out in favor of any of Trump’s challengers, but even more so if any gave North Korea a reason to switch sides.

With North Korea’s ballot already cast and a long campaign still ahead, democratic candidates should steel themselves for the insults to come.

Kyle Ferrier is the Director of Academic Affairs and Research at the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Gage Skidmore’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

[1] This comes from the March 5, 2004 Financial Times article “North Korea warms to senator’s US presidency bid” written by Andrew Ward and James Harding. The article is no longer searchable on the Financial Times website and was accessed through the Financial Times Historical Archive, 1888-2010

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