Tag Archive | "diplomacy"

How Might Joe Biden as President Deal with Korea?

By Robert R. King

In 2001, Senator Joe Biden became Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.  At the time, I was Chief of Staff for Congressman Tom Lantos of California, who had just became Ranking Democratic Member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee earlier that same year.  Before Lantos’ election to Congress, he had spent a few years in the late 1970s as a senior foreign policy advisor to Biden, and the two of them had become close friends.  They had traveled together internationally on many occasions, and after 1981 when both were serving in Congress, they worked together on a number of international projects.

Lantos set up a meeting in 2001 to talk with Biden about how the two might work together on a number of fractious foreign affairs issues since both were the leading Democrats of the foreign policy committees of the House and the Senate.  We met in Biden’s personal office in the Russel Senate Office Building, and as Democratic Staff Director Lantos invited me to join the meeting with Biden and his committee chief of staff.

We arrived just as Biden got back from a vote in the Senate chamber, and we were together for an hour or so before Lantos had to hurry back for a vote in the House of Representatives.  The meeting began with Biden discussing in great detail the previous evening’s episode of The West Wing—the American serial political drama (1999-2006) which was widely praised by critics, political science professors, former White House staffers, and which received 26 Prime Time Emmy awards including four awards for Outstanding Drama Series.

Biden was deeply into the issues raised in that television episode.  He had been a presidential candidate for a time during the 1988 campaign, and he was known to have presidential ambitions.  After hearing his analysis of The West Wing it was clear to me that he was still interested.  Biden’s interest in The West Wing episode focused on two issues:  how do you define what is the right decision on a public policy issue and how carry it out within a democratic system that requires approval of a fractious Congress and everything is done in the media spotlight.  His analysis convinced me he understood the political process and he had the right values.

With Joe Biden now President-elect Biden, pundits and astrologers are beginning the parlor game “What will President Biden do about _____ [insert your favorite issue].”  Unlike the election of Donald Trump four years ago, we have a much better idea of what Biden is likely to do.  He has a long track record in the realm of public policy, while Trump’s previous experience was limited to being a reality television personality and selling his name on properties whose mortgages were held by Russian oligarchs and Saudi princes.

Biden was a United States Senator for 36 years, and he was a member of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for that time.  He was chair of the committee for 3½ years and it’s Ranking Democratic Member for 8½ years.   Most recently he served 8 years as Vice President, where he was involved in the highest level discussions, particularly on foreign affairs.  The principal reason Biden was chosen to be President Obama’s running mate in 2008 was his foreign policy experience, which Obama lacked.

What could we expect President-elect Biden to do with regard to policy on Korea when he moves into the Oval Office?  What might be different than what we have seen over the last four years?

Likely Policies toward South Korea

Biden gave a “Special contribution” to Yonhap, a principal South Korean news agency, that provides some indication of the President-elect’s thoughts on Korea policy.  The piece entitled “Hope for Our Better Future” was principally focused on issues that Korean-Americans would be most concerned about—immigration to the United States, the failure of President Trump to deal with the Covid pandemic, and economic recovery.  He also emphasized the South Korean and United States cooperation and sacrifice in the Korean War.

A couple of sentences were particularly forward-looking:  “As President, I’ll stand with South Korea, strengthening our alliance to safeguard peace in East Asia and beyond, rather than extorting Seoul with reckless threats to remove our troops.  I’ll engage in principled diplomacy and keep pressing toward a denuclearized North Korea and a unified Korean Peninsula, while working to reunite Korean Americans separated from loved ones in North Korea for decades.”

Biden has been a particularly vocal advocate of United States allies, and he has supported international cooperation to deal with common international problems.  Trump, on the other hand, has disengaged with the international community.  It is been not just “America first,” but America alone.  Trump has demanded that South Korea (and Japan) pay considerably more to maintain U.S. troops there, and his belligerent pressure tactics reflect his background as a brash real estate mogul rather than a diplomatic approach to a common national security problem for both the U.S. and South Korea.  This is very much like pulling out of the World Health Organization and defaulting on a $62 million obligation to the UN agency in the midst of an international pandemic.

United States relations with South Korea are impacted by the U.S.-China relationship, and even under Biden there are likely to be issues that will require diplomatic effort to navigate.  Biden, however, will be more sophisticated in diplomacy.  Trump thinks in terms of his real estate tycoon Art of the Deal mentality, whereas Biden understands the importance of careful diplomatic negotiation.

Likely Policies Toward North Korea

Look for less focus on summit meetings with the North Korean leader from President Biden.  In less than two years President Trump has met three times with North Korea’s Kim Jong-un.  Despite international media frenzy for all three meetings, the President has little to show for his effort.  The Singapore summit (June 2018) received international attention, the United States received 55 sets of remains, some of which may be U.S. military servicemen.  The Hanoi summit (February 2019) ended abruptly and before final meetings were held with recriminations for the failure.  The third meeting was a hand-shake at the DMZ border with nothing of substance accomplished.

The principal reason for the failure of the meetings was that senior staff were not given the mandate to pull together agreements that both sides were willing to accept.  The two leaders exchanged “beautiful letters,” “love letters,” but nothing of substance resulted.  As one Biden advisor said “There’s no question that the era of love letters will be over.”  Look for Biden to meet with Kim only if a meeting has been thoroughly prepared in advance.  A photo op will not be enough to justify a meeting with the President of the United States.

North Korea seems to have missed the possibility that Vice President Biden might become the U.S. President, because they have been especially negative in name calling the United States’ new leader.  A year ago in November 2019, the North Korean news agency KCNA was particularly critical of Joe Biden, then one of several Democratic candidates for President.  (Keep in mind that in North Korea KCNA is the official voice of the government—the equivalent of the White House spokesperson, not something like The Washington Post or CNN expressing a point of view.)

Biden was repeatedly called a dog—“a rabid dog only keen on getting at other’s throats. . . . wandering about like a starving field dog. . . . No wonder, even the Americans call him ‘1% Biden’ with low I.Q. . . . ‘mad Biden’”  He “had the temerity to dare slander the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK,” and this “was the last-ditch efforts of the rabid dog expecting his death.”

The era of “love letters” with North Korea may be over, but that does not mean that the United States will end its efforts to engage North Korea and reach a deal on denuclearization. But it will take a different approach, one that is less personal and more professional. A more professional approach to North Korea and a focus on restoring trust in the U.S.-Korea alliance are two key changes that we should expect from President-elect Biden.

Robert R. King is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute of America.  He is former U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea Human Rights.  The views expressed here are his own.   

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

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Where do Biden and Trump Voters Stand on U.S.-Korea relations?

By Juni Kim

Next week’s U.S. presidential election has, to put it mildly, significant implications for the future of U.S.-Korea relations. The Trump administration’s aggressive approach to rethinking U.S. alliances has unnerved longstanding allies like South Korea. The last four years saw the renegotiation of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement, U.S. demands for South Korea to pay more for military costs, and Trump’s push for withdrawing U.S. troops stationed abroad. Stalled peace talks with North Korea also underline the continuing danger of North Korea’s increasingly capable missile and nuclear arsenal.

To understand where American voters stand on important issues on U.S.-Korea relations, KEI commissioned a study by YouGov that surveyed 1,064 American adults on August 26th to the 31st. Respondents were asked both who they voted for in the 2016 presidential election and who they would likely vote for in next week’s election. The results show that despite a split response among likely Biden and Trump voters on approving the Trump administration’s overall handling of South Korea and North Korea, there is clear agreement by American voters on specific policy issues like North Korea’s denuclearization and stationing U.S. troops in South Korea.

When asked on approving or disapproving of the current administration’s handling of relations with North Korea, 70% of likely Biden voters predictably disapproved while 69% of likely Trump approved. The split is similar for respondents who voted in the 2016 presidential election, with 72% of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton voters who disapproved and 74% of 2016 Trump voters who approved. On approving or disapproving of the administration’s handling of relations with South Korea, 22% of likely Biden voters approved and 65% of likely Trump voters approved.

Despite the wide split on the administration’s overall approach to North Korea and South Korea, U.S. voters generally agree on how important it is for North Korea to give up is nuclear arsenal. Likely Biden and Trump voters responded nearly identically with 89% and 88% respectively believing it is very important or important. There is some divergence when voters were asked about the U.S. providing humanitarian assistance to North Korean citizens. More likely Biden voters (60%) are in favor of providing assistance than likely Trump voters (47%), though there are still more Trump voters approving of assistance than disapproving (25%).

U.S. voters also show general agreement on the benefits of U.S.-South Korea trade, the U.S.-South Korea military alliance, and support for U.S. troop presence in South Korea. 74% of likely Biden voters and 67% of likely Trump voters believe that U.S. trade with South Korea is beneficial for the United States, and 68% of both sets of voters believe the U.S.-South Korea military alliance is in U.S. national security interests. Despite Trump’s critical view of U.S. troop presence abroad, including in South Korea, more likely Trump voters (66%) are in favor of maintaining or increasing troop presence in South Korea than likely Biden voters (59%).

Even in the current divisive political climate, the results reflect an understanding by Americans regardless of voter preference of the importance of the U.S. commitment to South Korea and the seriousness of the North Korean threat. While voters may be divided on Trump’s own performance, the public consensus should be noted by the next administration and how it approaches relations to the Korean peninsula.

Juni Kim is the Senior Manager for Operations and Technology at the Korea Economic Institute of America (KEI). The views expressed here are the author’s alone. 

Graphics created by Juni Kim. Cover image created by Juin Kim from photos on Gage Skidmore’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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North Korea’s October 10 Parade

By Stephan Haggard

If you read the media coverage of North Korea’s “military parade,” you would be justified in thinking it was just that. However, the event marked the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Korean Workers Party, not the Korean People’s Army. Indeed, the highly choreographed display is designed to show that the military is subordinate to the leadership and the party, not the other way around. Most of the expert analysis has rightly focused on the new weapons on display, and I touch on that issue too. But Kim Jong Un’s speech had some things to say about the ongoing shocks hitting North Korea, COVID, nuclear doctrine and even Kim Jong-un’s new populist ruling style and theatrical inclinations.

L’état, c’est moi

A core feature of “democratic centralism”—Lenin’s infamous oxymoron—is that the party embodies the general will of the people. What need for elections and the other trappings of democratic rule if the party sees clearly the true interests of the nation? Kim Jong-un notes how the party represents the people and they respond in kind, achieving a seamless fusion of interests:

“No one can think about even a moment of our Party’s glorious 75-year history without our great people, an omnipotent creator of history. They have always provided it with wisdom and resourcefulness as a wise mentor, infused it with inexhaustible strength and courage, defended it at the cost of their lives, supported it sincerely and turned its plans and lines into reality.”

North Korea, however, is a personalist regime and in Kim’s speech he used populist appeals that bear a family resemblance to those of autocrats elsewhere. The title of Nadia Urbanati’s great book on populism captures the idea well: Me The People. Kim Jong-un tears up in talking about the great trust the people have placed in him personally, and even apologizes openly for his shortcomings with respect to the economy; this could signal a new focus on economic issues at the upcoming party congress. But the apology proves only a feint, for the more the people have suffered the more it shows their devotion and the more it provides the strength for the autocrat to continue being autocratic:

“Even if it may mean suffering more, our people’s trust in me and our Party is always absolute and steadfast…As I enjoy this greatest trust which no one in this world can ever expect, I have been able to confront without hesitation all manner of challenges remembering the mission and will to make selfless, devoted efforts for the good of the people, jump into do-or-die battles, which would lead even to a war, and uncompromisingly cope with the disasters unprecedented in history.”

We would not have seen this kind of approach—let alone the open emotionalism—from Kim Jong-il; a new populist governing style is clearly at work.

The Crisis Continues

That said, times remain hard and getting out in front of that fact may be the only plausible public relations strategy the leadership has at its disposal. For Kim Jong-un’s populist line of political reasoning to work, the hardships being endured have to be pinned on someone else and the sanctions-wielding international community and COVID are the most obvious candidates. The speech continued the openly dour tone of the regime’s own pronouncements since at least the 5th Plenum in December 2019. That year saw the first open admission in years of serious food shortages, followed by a rapid food assessment by the World Food Program and Food and Agriculture Organization in May that detailed the production shortfalls and even provided survey evidence of household distress.

Chinese sanctions have resulted in a dramatic fall off in North Korean exports over the course of 2019, but Chinese exports to the North remained surprisingly buoyant. When the regime rightly decided to take COVID seriously, the China trade dropped to practically nothing, at least in the official statistics. While the regime clings to the myth that there are no COVID cases in North Korea, magnanimously offering condolences to other countries, the speech openly admits the cost of vigilance; indeed, the pandemic makes several appearances in the speech as an indirect source of the country’s economic travails.

Foreign Policy and the Weapons

Economic motives may have been at work in the brief but friendly mention of the South (that the “day would come when the north and south take each other’s hand again.”) The weapons on display, however, suggested that North Korea continues to invest heavily in a number of missile platforms.  Analysis of these will be forthcoming over the course of the week, and there is the mock-up problem; we don’t know how far along these weapons are and they have certainly not been tested. But Vann van Diepen and Michael Elleman have a good first pass at 38North; interestingly, state media in China also offered detailed analysis.

The two biggest surprises were a massive new road-mobile (but probably liquid-fueled) ICBM, sitting atop an 11-axle transporter erector launcher (a Hwasong 16 if the we continue the numbering convention) and a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (the Pukguksong 4). The larger question—as always—is what are the North Koreans doing? The simple answer is that this is not so much a political signal as it is yet another step on the road to the deterrent capacity they want to acquire. Sometimes it makes sense to simply take the North Koreans at their word. In Kim Jong-un’s words:

“We have built a deterrent with which we can satisfactorily control and manage any military threats that we are facing or may face. Our military capability is changing in the rate of its growth and in its quality and quantity in our own style and in accordance with our demands and our timetable.”

A larger ICBM could permit more decoys, heavier payloads or even MIRVing.

Although the speech made no mention of the U.S. (Chinese official media also made this point), however, it is hard not to read this through a diplomatic strategic lens. Yes, the timing of the parade and the U.S. elections is coincidental. Nonetheless, the challenge of North Korea’s steadily-increasing capability will now land on the desk of President Trump in a second term, or more likely with a Biden administration. Kim Jong-un tried to straddle a line, displaying a large new ICBM and at the same time repeatedly emphasizing the defensive nature of these new systems, perhaps to leave diplomatic doors open.

Yet even on that score, the effort to reassure about North Korean nuclear doctrine left ambiguity. While explicitly saying that North Korea foregoes pre-emption, the speech simultaneously noted that “if any forces infringe upon the security of our state and attempt to have recourse to military force against us, I will enlist all our most powerful offensive strength in advance to punish them.” Although nuclear war around the Korean peninsula remains a low probability, North Korean nuclear doctrine is the source of as much uncertainty as the weapons themselves.

Stephan Haggard is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute and the Lawrence and Sallye Krause Professor of Korea-Pacific Studies, Director of the Korea-Pacific Program and distinguished professor of political science at the School of Global Policy and Strategy University of California San Diego. 

Photo from Stefan Krasowki’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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Suga Likely to Maintain “New Normal” in Korea-Japan Relations

By Terrence Matsuo

On September 17, former chief cabinet secretary Suga Yoshihide officially succeeded Abe Shinzō as prime minister of Japan. Although his arrival as leader presents a chance to stop the downturn in relations with South Korea, experts and analysts say both he and President Moon Jae-in of South Korea will face difficulties in addressing long-standing barriers to cooperation.

Since taking office, Seoul-Tokyo relations under Prime Minister Suga have started off rather cordially. The new Japanese leader held a phone conversation with his South Korean counterpart on September 24, and the Japanese newspaper Nikkei quoted Prime Minister Suga telling reporters after the call: “I told President Moon that we cannot leave our bilateral relationship, which has been extremely damaged by matters such as the [wartime] laborer issue, as it is.” According to the newspaper, the Blue House said President Moon told his counterpart that Korea and Japan “should find the best solution for the forced laborers.”

The telephone conversation comes after a flurry of hopeful public statements and letters by South Korean officials. President Moon sent a letter to Prime Minister Suga to congratulate him on becoming prime minister, while Prime Minister Suga responded with his own letter calling for “forward-looking” relations. In addition to South Korean Prime Minister Chung Sye-kyun, Yonhap reported that Rep. Lee Nak-yon, of the ruling Democratic Party, also expressed congratulations to Prime Minister Suga. “I hope for the elevation of Japan’s national destiny and an improvement in South Korea-Japan relations,” the news service quoted him saying at a party meeting.

Experts say that the introduction of a new Japanese leader is a welcome breath of fresh air for the bilateral relationship. Karl Friedhoff, a fellow for public opinion and Asia policy at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, pointed to past Korean opinion polls which found Prime Minister Suga’s predecessor to be less popular than even North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un. “I think with Suga coming in, at least there’s a sense that this is a reset,” Mr. Friedhoff said in a telephone interview. While recommending some caution, he added: “At least now, the door’s ajar. It’ll be difficult to open it further, but it sounds like South Korea’s open to trying to at least think about moving this forward.”

Academics warn that past history suggests that positive relations between South Korea and Japan are short-lived events. Dr. Kirk Larsen, an East Asia history professor at Brigham Young University, pointed to meetings between Prime Minister Obuchi Keizō and President Kim Dae-jung in 1998, and Prime Minister Koizumi Jun’ichirō and President Roh Moo-hyun in 2004. “In all cases, what initially seemed to be really significant breakthroughs that hopefully lead to future progress, end up backtracking over issues like Takeshima/Dokdo, or forced labor or comfort women or things like that,” he said in a telephone interview.

Domestic politics in both South Korea and Japan remain a significant barrier towards improving the bilateral relationship. Anti-Japanese sentiment among President Moon’s progressive base makes it difficult for him to move forward on rapprochement with Japan, said Dr. Hosoya Yūichi, a professor at Keiō University in Japan. During an online webinar hosted by the Stimson Center, he also said that the Moon administration has removed experts on Japan from the policymaking process. “That’s why I say that President Moon Jae-in is in the middle of the darkness on how to settle the current difficult situation,” he said.

Other experts point to the usefulness of using Japan to shore up lagging approval ratings in Korean politics. “I think in the short term, Moon seeks to improve relations with Japan, but he will fail,” said Dr. Sung-yoon Lee, a professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University. “He will fail because, not necessarily of the new Japanese prime minister’s stance, but because Moon, will find it necessary next year to fan the flames of anti-Japanese sentiment.” Even if he is not running for reelection, Dr. Lee said in a telephone interview that President Moon entering his lame duck period “bodes ill for any dramatic improvement in the bilateral relationship.”

A similar dynamic is also observed in Japan, where the public has hardened against South Korea. Tobias Harris, a senior vice president at Teneo Intelligence and author of a well-received biography of Abe Shinzō, observed that public opinion favored actions like removing South Korea from the trade whitelist. “That hard line to South Korea was actually more popular than [Prime Minister Abe’s] government was,” he said during an online webinar hosted by the Heritage Foundation. “This means even people that didn’t even particularly like him thought that that was the right approach.”

Even if both governments were interested in repairing relations, there are other domestic concerns which will take up bandwidth in both the Blue House and the Kantei. Both governments are working to contain the spread of the novel coronavirus, and addressing its economic aftereffects. “The political capital it would take for either side to make a significant gesture is going to be really significant,” said Mr. Friedhoff. It is hard to envision a priority on foreign policy when “they’re dealing with so many things right now domestically.”

Additionally, both President Moon and Prime Minister Suga have a limited timetable before they face the voting public. While the former may not be on the ballot, the later will especially need to find successes in order to win his own mandate for leading the country. “There might be some space if both sides were to say this is the one thing we really want to try to accomplish,” said Dr. Larsen. “But there are a lot of rather pressing issues, not least the coronavirus, economic concerns, and a whole host of other things.”

Rather than introducing an era of good feelings, experts say that focusing on shared interests and preventing a further degradation in the relationship may be a more realistic goal for Seoul and Tokyo. “The status quo isn’t great, but it’s becoming kind of a new normal and we’re starting see that both sides are now willing to kind of cooperate,” said Mr. Friedhoff. South Korea and Japan should “start to look for things that put both leaders in a place to benefit.” He suggested one example would be economic cooperation in southeast Asia, where both sides are actively involved and have fewer sensitivities related to history.

Ultimately, observers say it will take statesmanship from both sides to recognize there are more benefits from working together than against each other. “A world in which Japan and South Korea were close, cooperative friends would be a much better one than the one we have right now,” said Dr. Larsen, noting that both are advanced democracies and share many interests in spite of their difficult historical relationship. “A future in which the two are friends and allies and cooperate would be a really good future. It’s just hard to know how to get there.”

Terrence Matsuo is a writer and analyst of American foreign policy in the Indo-Pacific region and a Contributing Author for The Peninsula. The views expressed here are the author’s alone.

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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Moon Jae-in’s UN General Assembly Speech – Did He Say Anything New about Peace?

By Mark Tokola

Toward the end of his September 23 (virtual) speech to the United Nations General Assembly, South Korean President Moon Jae-in said, “I believe (peace) begins with declaring an end to the war, an act that can affirm mutual commitments to peace.  I hope that the UN and the international community can provide support so that we can advance into an era of reconciliation and prosperity through the end-of-war declaration.”

To the general public, this would seem like common sense, didn’t the Korean War end in 1953?  Why not say so? Some commentators in Washington and Seoul, however, sat up when they read President Moon’s statement because some took it as a unilateral call to end the Korean War Armistice, which remains in effect and provides the basis for the still-useful United Nations Command (UNC), UNC-rear basing operations in Japan, and arguably the presence of U.S. forces on the Korean Peninsula.  The latter are based on a separate U.S.-ROK Mutual Defense Treaty, not the Armistice, but an end to the Armistice could lead to political pressure for a withdrawal of U.S. troops.

Furthermore, an end-or-war declaration would seem like a reward to Kim Jong-un when he has done nothing recently to deserve one.  North Korea has cut off communications with South Korea, failed to participate in cooperation called for in the 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, kept up its missile development, and, to add insult to injury, in June 2020 blew up the Joint Liaison Office that had been built in Kaesong as a symbol of rapprochement.

But, negative reaction to President Moon’s statement seems more a reflection of skittishness about the state of U.S.-ROK relations than to what he actually said.  It was nothing new.  The Panmunjom Declaration of September 2018 already made the point, and more directly.  “The two sides agreed to declare the end of war this year that marks the 65th anniversary of the Armistice Agreement and actively promote the holding of meetings…with a view to replacing the Armistice Agreement with a peace agreement…”  The Panmunjom Declaration says that the United States and perhaps China, would need to be involved in such talks.  President Moon in his UNGA speech sounded like he was reminding North Korea of a prior commitment rather than calling for anything new.

President Moon’s call for peace also came in the context of a long line of peace declarations dating back to the 1992 Joint Declaration between South and North Korea in which they declared that they no longer had hostile intent towards one another.  The United States, too, in the Agreed Framework of 1994 provided assurances of peace to North Korea.  Declaring peace on the Korean Peninsula seems like an important thing to do, that’s why it’s been done repeatedly over the years.

That is not to say that there is not an important underlying issue in an end of war declaration.  Historically, armistices are followed by peace agreements intended to deal with the underlying causes of the conflict.  The Korean War Armistice Agreement calls for a high-level international conference to deal with “the Korea question.”  That was tried unsuccessfully in Geneva in 1954, and when North Korea is ready to do so, international diplomacy should be tried again.  The “Korea question” is not whether Kim Jong-un should have nuclear weapons, it is that neither Korea is reconciled to a permanent division of the Peninsula.  The future of the Peninsula is an issue for the Korean people, but settlement will require international support, exactly as Moon Jae-in said in his UNGA speech.  The Armistice is not an obstacle to peace talks, it is the basis for peace talks.

Mark Tokola is the Vice President of the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Image from versello’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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What Woodward’s Book “Rage” Tells us about U.S.-Korea Relations

By Mark Tokola

At least in U.S. media outlets, the main Korea story to emerge from Bob Woodward’s new book “Rage” is the correspondence between President Trump and Kim Jong-un, which is characterized as faintly ridiculous.  I’ll set aside the question of whether Kim Jong-un’s letters read better in Korean, and particularly within North Korean rhetorical tradition.  The language of the letters may not be that extraordinary.  Perhaps odder are President Trump’s efforts to mirror the floridness of the language.

For President Trump to be impressed by being called “Excellency” also shows a remarkable lack of experience with reading diplomatic correspondence, in which it is a commonplace title not only for heads of government but for all ambassadors.  The more serious problem is that the letters have been made public.  Exposing letters between heads of governments may close off one form of confidential communication at a time when we need all the channels of communication we can get.

You get the impression, reading the whole book, that Woodward thought it a scoop to reveal how close the U.S. Government was to believing that we were to going to war with North Korea toward the end of 2017.  More than once, he shows Secretary of Defense Mattis going to the National Cathedral to meditate on the tragedy such a conflict would become.

It seems clear from Woodward’s interviews that the issue was not whether U.S. officials were considering attacking North Korea, but their deep concern that North Korea might attack the United States.  That did not seem fanciful at the time even from publicly available sources.  North Korea was producing videos of what an attack on New York or Washington, DC would look like.  North Korean media released a photo of Kim Jong-un studying a map showing missile tracks from North Korea leading into the United States.  North Korea not only asserted that it had the means of attacking the United States, it was open about its intent to do so if conditions warranted.  The general lack of current interest in that part of “Rage,” shows that it seems like a problem of the past—at least for now.

A third story in “Rage” is President Trump’s statements that he would withdraw U.S. forces from South Korea if he had the opportunity to do so.  That’s not a shocker, he’s said it publicly.  What the book makes clear however is that he says this privately as well as publicly.  It is therefore not just a negotiating stance to get South Korea to pay more in the current burden sharing negotiations.  He means it.  He would withdraw U.S. troops if he could.  All that has been in the way of his doing so is the consensus of the foreign policy and defense establishments, overwhelming Congressional sentiment, and strong American public support for the U.S.-ROK alliance.

Looking back over Donald Trump’s long life in the public eye, he’s changed his views on controversial issues such as gun control, abortion, and military interventions abroad.  There are however two issues on which he has had rock-solid consistency.  One is that trade with foreign countries is self-evidently unfair unless the United States is running a merchandise trade surplus.  The other is that the United States should not defend any foreign country unless it pays at least full cost.  He wrote an open letter to the New York Times on September 2, 1987, saying that Saudi Arabia and Japan should pay the United States “for the defense of their freedom.”  We can see from Woodward’s two books on the Trump Administration that if he wins a second term, we can expect him to push his core beliefs on trade and pay-as-you-go alliance relationships all the more vigorously.

Mark Tokola is the Vice President of the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Image from the Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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John Bolton on the Summits 2: Hanoi

By Stephan Haggard

Whatever we think of John Bolton’s motives or policy approach, The Room Where It Happened adds detail to our understanding of the Singapore (Ch. 4) and Hanoi (Ch. 11) summits. In a previous post, I discussed the Singapore summit (and linked to a review of Bolton’s Surrender is Not an Option). Today, a look at the Hanoi summit.

As with the Singapore summit, Bolton was implacably opposed to a second meeting; he thus portrays his primary role as one of damage control. Yet the source of his concern now included not only Trump but Stephen Biegun, who is mentioned over a dozen times in the Hanoi chapter and even Pompeo comes in for rough treatment at several points. As Bolton was on his way to Hanoi, Biegun had produced a draft U.S-.North Korea statement that the National Security Advisor read as pure capitulation. Bolton does not share the details of the draft, but the memoir notes in passing a number of sources of concern: that the U.S. negotiating team had bought into an incremental “action for action” approach; that serious negotiations would require a baseline declaration of the nuclear program; and that Biegun was making concessions rather than laying out American objectives. As always throughout The Room Where It Happened, Bolton raises an additional concern about process: that Pompeo was giving Biegun too much latitude and that whatever Biegun was proposing was not worked through the interagency process, i.e. through him.

Bolton portrays the president as completely absorbed with the Michael Cohen testimony unfolding in Washington after he arrived in Hanoi, cancelling preparatory briefings the day of the summit as a result. But the President had gotten comfortable with the repeated suggestion that walking away from the summit would involve less of a political cost than accepting a deal that lacked substance.

The book confirms in broad strokes the deal that Kim Jong-un had brought to the table: “that the North give up its Yongbyon nuclear facilities, in exchange for lifting of all post-2016 UN Security Council sanctions (p. 325).” What Bolton does not detail—but we know from Biegun’s subsequent comments on the summit—are two crucial facts about this offer. First, the post-2016 UNSC resolutions were precisely those four—UNSC 2321, 2371, 2375 and 2379—in which China had finally agreed to get tough on its client by going after commercial exports and placing a cap on the import of petroleum products. North Korea was thus not asking not for “total” sanctions relief, as Trump later argued. But that claim was not too far from the mark and certainly more accurate than Ri Yong-ho’s explanation for the breakdown, in which North Korea was simply seeking to minimize the humanitarian damage from the sanctions. It is clear from Bolton’s book that Kim Jong-un strongly believed that he could score a big hit against the multilateral sanctions regime, which would have largely unraveled if the North Korean offer was accepted.

And second, the memoir does not make clear that the Yongbyon offer itself was squishy. Contrary to the language just cited, it does not appear that North Korea had the intention of “giving up Yongbyon,” but something more akin to a freeze, inspections and then drawn out process to shut down certain facilities at Yongbyon, including the reprocessing and enrichment facilities. This could have been the foundation for a structured process to get at least something from the North Koreans, but the offer as communicated was pretty thin gruel. It was not based on a fuller statement, did not address the hundreds of other structures in Yongbyon, did not propose any detailed means for monitoring the agreement, nor mention other sites and the stocks of fissile material or weapons. Nor did the North Korean delegation appear to include anyone with the expertise—and authority—to negotiate or even brief on these issues.

Perhaps the two most interesting facts to emerge from the Bolton memoir about Hanoi was how upset Kim Jong-un was that his proposal had failed and the fact that he did not appear to have the inclination—or latitude—to sweeten the deal that he had come in with. This second point, in particular, has been missed. The assumption behind the Trump-style summits was that the two leaders could unlock deals that were blocked in process and by vested interests. What does it say that Kim Jong-un could not even modify this proposal at the margin when pressed (p.328)?

The memoir details the messy end of the second and last meeting of the day, during which Kim Jong-un tried one last time to get a joint statement that would put a rosy gloss on the failure. Against Bolton’s advice, Trump conceded to allow Kim Yong-chol and Pompeo to work on a joint statement, but negotiations on it quickly broke down and no statement was forthcoming.

By now, the freeze that followed Hanoi is well known. Choe Son-hui was assigned the task of targeting Pompeo and Bolton as the villains of the Hanoi drama. On the home front, Bolton continued to fight rear-guard actions against Trump’s efforts to limit the use of secondary sanctions against China (pp. 336-338). A subsequent visit by President Moon to Washington in April anticipated the events of 2020: the summit had also taken a toll on North-South relations. Bolton also shows that Moon Jae-in was still angling for a third summit on the grounds of a striking admission: that lower-level negotiators had no authority to make any concessions. If true, what is the point in even staging working-level talks?

It is a testimony to the challenges of the Trump presidency that Bolton devotes more than 15 pages (pp. 338-355) to the events leading up to the “handshake” meeting at the DMZ in June 2019, a PR event Bolton made the decision to skip. As he summarizes, “I understood what conclusions might be drawn from my not being at the DMZ, but I was past caring at that point.” Needless to say, the meeting had no substantive significance beyond opening more rifts in the American policy process over what steps might be appropriate.

Despite the fact that working-level meetings were going nowhere, on August 1 President Trump fired off three tweets downplaying the North’s short-run missile tests. The last said “Chairman Kim has a great and beautiful vision for his country, and only the United States, with me as President, can make that vision come true. He will do the right thing because he is far too smart not to, and he does not want to disappoint his friend, President Trump.” In a conclusion that sums up Bolton’s view of the Trump presidency, he appends his parting shot: “That was our North Korea policy.”

Could Hanoi have gone differently? It is doubtful unless the Trump administration insisted that the summit would be canceled in the absence of some deliverables negotiated in advance. As the drama actually played out, it is clear from Bolton’s memoir that both the United States and North Korea overreached. Trump exaggerated his ability to close a deal and thus banked too much on a summit with no negotiated deliverables, and on either side. Kim Jong-un exaggerated his ability to roll the presidency, and came in with no Plan B.

If the offer was serious, and some interim agreement had been negotiated in advance of the summit, then a leaders meeting could at least set a more serious framework and timetable in motion. But from reading Bolton, we are reminded that while Biegun’s wings may have been clipped, the North Koreans had little interest in pursuing serious working-level talks either; Bolton is right that the Biegun approach was clearly more forthcoming. The Yongbyon focus pursued during the endgame of the Six Party Talks still remains the most plausible path forward, but everyone watching North Korea knows that the prospects for an agreement are slim. With the election looming, the test of the proposition that such a focus might yield results will have to await a second Trump or Biden administration.

Stephan Haggard is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute and the Lawrence and Sallye Krause Professor of Korea-Pacific Studies, Director of the Korea-Pacific Program and distinguished professor of political science at the School of Global Policy and Strategy University of California San Diego. 

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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John Bolton on the Summits 1: Singapore

By Stephan Haggard

Whatever we think of John Bolton’s motives or policy approach, The Room Where It Happened provides detail to our understanding of the Singapore (Ch. 4) and Hanoi (Ch. 11) summits. Bolton starts with an interesting claim about the very origins of the first meeting between Kim and Trump. Chung Eui-yong, South Korea’s Director of National Security, appeared to only be carrying a message from Kim Jong-un when he proposed the summit idea to Trump in his Oval Office visit in March 2018. Bolton claims, however, that the very idea of issuing the invitation had actually come from the South Korean side (p. 78 and fn. 3, p. 503).

Chung repeatedly tried to assure a deeply-skeptical Bolton that President Moon had been pushing for a public North Korean commitment to “complete verifiable and irreversible denuclearization,” Bolton’s favored language dating to his time in the Bush administration. Although Chung claimed that Kim Jong-un had “seemed amenable,” North Korea had no interest in making commitments to Moon on the nuclear front, using that channel to develop North-South relations and drive wedges between Washington and Seoul. The Panmunjom declaration does little more than characterize denuclearization as a common goal, and pats Pyongyang on the back for what it had already done on the issue (such as the media stunt at Punggye-ri):

“The two sides confirmed the common goal of realizing, through complete denuclearization, a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

The two sides shared the view that the measures being initiated by the north side are very meaningful and crucial for the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, and agreed to fulfill their respective responsibility and role.”

As we will see, however, that language actually anticipates the Singapore outcome to a surprising extent.

The central theme of Bolton’s analysis of Singapore is simple: that Trump’s eagerness permitted Kim Jong-un to structure the summit outcome to his advantage. The only substantive issue effectively resolved by the leaders’ meeting itself was the concession Kim Jong-un sought on exercises (p. 110), which played perfectly on Trump’s skepticism about the alliances.

But the real action—or inaction to be more precise–was occurring at the working level talks at Panmunjom. Summits do not typically resolve issues; rather, leaders present what has already been negotiated by the sherpas. Although Bolton expresses his animus toward the State Department negotiators, whom he saw as soft, it was precisely at this level that the North Koreans proved most masterful. The risk of North Korean stonewalling was that if absolutely nothing happened in the working level talks, political pressure would mount for Trump to cancel, or at least postpone, the summit. Bolton details several such near-death cycles (for example, around Choe Son-hui’s attack on the Vice President); as he admits openly, each raised his hopes. However as the President was meeting with Kim Yong-chol as late as June 1—crowing about the meeting and the letter from Kim Jong-un—North Korean negotiators at the DMZ were rejecting the draft U.S. approach at the Panmunjom negotiations. By this time, Trump was already openly stating that Singapore would be little more than a photo-op, the beginning of a “process” that would involve incremental steps. This outcome was precisely what hawks like Bolton feared.

As we now know, the outcome was worse than Bolton either feared or even admits in The Room Where It Happened. Despite Bolton’s attention to detail throughout the book, there is barely a mention of the summit statement itself and certainly no sustained analysis of it. Yet as I have detailed elsewhere, the joint statement contained pretty much everything North Korea could have wanted, starting with a weak and ambiguous commitment to denuclearization (“…reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panumunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work toward complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”). More significant was the priority given to improving bilateral relations and working toward a peace regime ahead of denuclearization, and above all the step-by-step approach that was implicit as a result.

Bolton also is largely silent about the biggest shock of the summit, which came in President Trump’s press conference following the leaders’ meeting. The president not only promised to pause exercises but described them as provocative, costly and unnecessary. He even suggested that U.S. troops might even be withdrawn altogether. What more could Kim Jong-un ask for?

In fact, the problem with the summit was not in accepting the inevitability of some kind of step-by-step process. Bolton is misguided in thinking that the United States could hold out for a deal in which complete denuclearization would be achieved absent any concessions. Why would the North Koreans commit to a negotiation of that sort? The problem with the summit was the complete dissipation of leverage once it had been wrapped up. Bolton is completely right that the United States needed to get something concrete beyond a freeze, and that a baseline declaration of their capabilities was a reasonable place to start; how can you have negotiations if there is no agreement about what is even up for discussion? (p. 117). Yet Trump’s misguided belief that he and Kim could resolve things at the leaders’ meeting meant inadequate focus on progress in the working level talks.

In early July, Pompeo was learning that the North had walked out of Singapore with a very different picture of what had occurred; Pyongyang was in no mood for concessions (p. 117-118). In five hours of negotiation with Kim Yong-chol, Pompeo got precisely nothing. Trump was effectively forced to cancel a second Pompeo trip when told that he would not meet with Kim Jong-un (which he had failed to do in the July meeting as well).

At the same time, Kim Jong-un continued to ply President Trump with love letters, dangling the prospect of another summit (which Moon Jae-in also urged), while insisting that the U.S. come up with new proposals. Bolton closes the chapter on Singapore with a surprisingly blunt assessment of how the bar had been lowered in the second half of 2018: “But we had at least survived past the November congressional elections without any major disasters and could now face the next round of Trump enthusiasm to meet with Kim Jong Un.”

In the next post, a discussion of Bolton’s chapter on Hanoi. A review of Bolton’s Surrender is Not an Option can be found here.

Stephan Haggard is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute and the Lawrence and Sallye Krause Professor of Korea-Pacific Studies, Director of the Korea-Pacific Program and distinguished professor of political science at the School of Global Policy and Strategy University of California San Diego. 

Photo from Wikimedia Commons.

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North Korea: Time for a Different Approach?

By Mark Tokola

It seems unlikely that there will be any diplomatic breakthroughs with North Korea during the remainder of 2020 unless Kim Jong-un unexpectedly launches a major initiative involving tangible concessions.  Donald Trump has little to gain from another summit unless it achieved something dramatic and concrete.  Kim Jong-un would be wary of any new deal with the Trump Administration, not knowing whether it would be honored by a potential Biden Administration.  At the same time, the prospect of returning to a pre-2016 policy of isolation and ‘maximum pressure’ towards North Korea is enervating.  The current pause in diplomacy might be a good time to think through alternatives.  None of the previous approaches over past decades have worked, but not every approach has been tried.  Here are three different possibilities:

Change the Channel

The current negotiating framework of denuclearization in exchange for sanctions relief may be too narrow to succeed.  A fundamental problem with denuclearization is verification.  North Korea has always been reluctant to agree to meaningful verification, and the U.S. has been unwilling to lift sanctions until North Korean concessions appear more permanent and principled than they have been in the past.  There is also no reason to assume that a little denuclearization in exchange for a little sanctions relief necessarily would lead to next steps. It could just as easily lead to accusations of cheating and bad faith.

The denuclearization of North Korea should remain the primary objective for the United States and South Korea, but it might have to be a long-term or even multi-generational objective.  North Korea has long stated that its own eventual objective is denuclearization.  There is no reason for the United State or South Korea to state that North Korea has a right to nuclear arms in violation of the NPT.  It might be pragmatic, however, to admit that it might take a very long time for North Korea to give them up.  It would be best to continue to hold denuclearization out as a long-term, mutually agreed goal, even if it is not tightly defined.  We might even get there eventually but not if we give up on it.

In the meantime, it should be possible to change the channel and take up other worthwhile negotiations with North Korea.  Conventional arms controls could be stabilizing and mutually beneficial.  The main risk of war is not a nuclear exchange, it is the outbreak of a conventional conflict, perhaps endangering Seoul.  An imaginable negotiation might involve, for example, a withdrawal of North Korea artillery and short-range missiles to a further distance from Seoul in exchange for a reduction in air forces in South Korea.  (This was essentially one of the deals struck in arms control talks between NATO and the Warsaw Pact: a pulling back of Soviet tanks in exchange for a restriction on NATO helicopters.)  Conventional arms talks could focus on the systems considered most threatening to each side rather than a cap on the numbers of similar weapons.  The two militaries are too different to make that approach fruitful.

Another subject for negotiation might involve persuading North Korea to sign the international Chemical Weapons Convention.  That would not be a big ask.  North Korea is one of only four countries in the world not to have signed the CWC.  The others are Egypt, Israel, and South Sudan.  Apart from reducing the risk of use of chemical weapons, membership in the CWC entails submitting to a light verification regime.  Many countries that are allergic to verification systems have been prepared to sign the Convention.  It would be a modest step on North Korea’s part to acknowledge the principle of verification.  What could be offered in exchange?  Perhaps something specific such as improving North Korea’s peaceful chemical production.  Perhaps something more general by way of sanctions relief or recognition in other international bodies.

Invite Friends

Sooner or later, countries beyond South Korea, North Korea and the United States will have to be involved in talks regarding the future of the peninsula.  If there is a risk of ‘complicating’ the talks, it is not as if keeping it in tight bilateral channels has been all that productive.  And, without the tacit or open support of China, Japan, and perhaps Russia, for an eventual deal, it will be difficult to persuade North Korea that it has achieved a minimum level of security guarantees.

Chinese representatives have said that China is prepared to remain on the sidelines for bilateral talks between the United States and North Korea, and between North Korea and South Korea, but it will insist on having a presence at any trilateral negotiations among the United States, North Korea, and South Korea.  That doesn’t mean the three parties would be compelled to invite China, but it presents the possibility that China might try to sabotage any agreement reached among the three.  Given the growing friction between China and the United States, however, attempting four-party talks might be imprudent for the time being.  In any case, there is no reason to assume that North Korea would want China involved.  Reportedly, both North Korean and South Korean negotiators at the Six-Party Talks sometimes felt that China and the United States were talking over their heads.  There is little current enthusiasm for resurrecting the four or six-party talks formats, although the interests of the six (South Korea, North Korea, United States, China, Russia, and Japan) countries will need to be accommodated at some point.

There are, however, other parties who might be able to facilitate talks.  Inviting friends might take the edge off mutual suspicions and deep-rooted antagonisms between the United States and North Korea.  In the case of conventional arms talks, a neutral, expert, non-government organization such as the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI) or the Netherlands’ Clingendael Institute might be able to provide a technical and objective element to the discussions.  For broader talks, the involvement of the United Nations Secretary General’s office might be appropriate for discussing sanctions relief and international assistance to North Korea.  As a potential financial contributor and guarantor of the outcome of negotiations, the European Union might be a constructive participant in talks.  Although some EU member states fought on the side of the UN Command during the Korean War, the EU itself, which includes former Eastern Bloc and neutral states, could be portrayed as an honest broker.

Go Public

A third novel approach towards diplomacy with North Korea might be for the United States and South Korea to make a specific offer to North Korea, and to make it publicly.  The offer should be plausible; relatively detailed; and should offer concrete, economic inducements to North Korea—not intangibles such as an “end of war declaration,” normalization of relations, or vague security guarantees.  North Korea primarily is concerned by the parlous state of its economy.  The U.S.-ROK offer should propose fast-acting relief.  That does not necessarily mean the easing of sanctions, which may be too slow and uncertain to have much short-term effect.  Worrying too much about whether the regime might divert funds to its nuclear or cyber capabilities would make almost any form of economic assistance impossible.  Economic assistance is almost by definition fungible.  It should be possible to craft an offer of assistance in a way that would involve some, but not too much, conditionality.

Apart from the possibility of success, there are advantages to the United States and South Korea making a joint, public offer to North Korea.  It would show the international community that the two countries are making an effort.  It would put Kim Jong-un on the spot to either accept or reject a proposal that would improve the lives of his people.  And, it would demonstrate that the United States and South Korea are on the same page at a time when that is being questioned.

There is no guarantee that a new approach towards North Korea would work, but if the worst outcome is that North Korea rejects a new approach, the onus would be on them.

Mark Tokola is the Vice President of the Korea Economic Institute of America. The views expressed here are his own.

Photo from coolloud’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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What Kim Yo Jong’s Statement Means for the Prospect of Renewed Nuclear Talks

By Stephan Haggard

Speculation about a pre-election surprise on North Korea has been bubbling to the surface in Washington, suggested by John Bolton no less. Not surprisingly, President Moon—with his fresh electoral mandate—has also been pushing a Kim-Trump summit. Now Kim Yo Jong has offered up her own reflection on the current state of diplomatic play.

The meandering, “on-the-one-hand, on-the-other-hand” statement has been taken as a firm rejection of another summit, or even working-level talks, and contained the usual veiled threats. Yet the statement also sought to protect the personal relationship between Kim and Trump, teased that denuclearization was not impossible and aimed above all to entice the administration into a new offer. As such, it could be interpreted as an effort to calm the waters rather than a signal of looming escalation.

What did Kim Yo Jong actually say? Kim does not state definitively that talks are impossible; that will depend on “the judgment and decision between the two leaders.” But the statement does adopt the standard bargaining tactic of explaining why Pyongyang is not anxious to deal; that the U.S.—and the president–need an agreement more than North Korea does and that another photo op would be a waste of time.

The fundamental reason for Kim Yo Jong’s caution goes back to the embarrassing failure in Hanoi, described in some detail in Chapter 11 of John Bolton’s The Room Where it Happened. Ironically, the accounts by Bolton and Kim—if not their interpretations—align quite closely. Kim Yo Jong portrays the North as bringing a serious offer to the table in Hanoi, one that would have involved real concessions: trading some (ill-defined) movement on Yongbyon for relief from the most significant multilateral sanctions imposed through the Security Council since 2016. Bolton portrays Kim as clearly distressed by the fact that this offer was so roundly rejected, and Kim Yo Jong’s text hints at the embarrassment of Hanoi as well.

She argues, however, that during the “handshake” summit, Kim Jong-un warned President Trump that he would not revisit the Hanoi offer. Indeed, Kim Yo Jong suggests that the entire “action for action” framework, which North Korea has often advanced, is over before it ever really began. North Korea is at the present unwilling to trade partial moves on the nuclear front for sanctions relief. Rather, she argues that the parties should shift from such incrementalism to “a formula of ‘withdrawal of hostility versus resumption of negotiations.’”

Kim Yo Jong goes even further, however, suggesting that sanctions relief is not even a central objective of the Kim Jong-un regime. There are several possible reasons for such a bold claim, starting with the effort to show resolve and underline the capacity of the regime to withstand outside pressure. Under this interpretation, simply seeking sanctions relief—as in Hanoi—could be interpreted as a sign of weakness.

Yet an equally plausible interpretation is that Hanoi demonstrated the low likelihood of securing such a trade with the United States, particularly given disagreements within the administration on how to proceed. Why chase something you are unlikely to get?

What about the possibility that Kim Yo Jong is signaling her own pre-electoral surprise? A section of the speech addresses possible U.S. concerns that it will receive the “Christmas present” provocation that was promised—but not delivered—at the end of 2019. However, Kim Yo Jong goes to some pains to say that North Korea has no such intentions unless provoked. Rather she says that North Korea has not the “slightest intention to pose a threat to the U.S.,” that Kim Jong Un has assured President Trump on this score, and that “everything will go smoothly if they leave us alone and make no provocation on us [sic].”

The shadow boxing between the United States and North Korea often centers on efforts to put the ball in the other player’s court: to shift the onus for action. As with the long history of peace agreement and peace regime proposals, North Korea is doing that here. Yet Kim Yo Jong’s statement suggests that the parties probably view one another in surprisingly similar ways. Kim Jong-un sees little return for rushing into talks that are unlikely to yield any benefits, and is in any case unwilling to make concessions. And in the United States, it is not just John Bolton who sees little likelihood that North Korea will make meaningful offers. Where is the “win” for the president? The main message I see in Kim Yo Jong’s speech is that North Korea is playing out the clock; it will either resume the dance if Trump prevails or take its chances with a Biden administration.

Stephan Haggard is a Non-Resident Fellow at the Korea Economic Institute and the Lawrence and Sallye Krause Professor of Korea-Pacific Studies, Director of the Korea-Pacific Program and distinguished professor of political science at the School of Global Policy and Strategy University of California San Diego.

Photo from the Republic of Korea’s photostream on flickr Creative Commons.

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The Peninsula blog is a project of the Korea Economic Institute. It is designed to provide a wide ranging forum for discussion of the foreign policy, economic, and social issues that impact the Korean peninsula. The views expressed on The Peninsula are those of the authors alone, and should not be taken to represent the views of either the editors or the Korea Economic Institute. For questions, comments, or to submit a post to The Peninsula, please contact us at ts@keia.org.