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Commentary: How will President Biden cope with the North Korea problem?

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MARYLAND: US President Donald Trump selected an unconventional model of diplomacy with North Korea that was characterised by an emphasis on leader-to-leader relations and a go-it-alone method that minimised session with different stakeholders.

Whereas this method resulted in three summit conferences with North Korean chief Kim Jong Un, it didn’t result in a significant rollback of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program.

US President Joe Biden, who was sworn in on Jan 20, will face a North Korea that’s annoyed about what it sees as failed diplomacy and wanting to proceed increasing its nuclear and missile arsenal.

READ: Biden will have to make early decision on North Korea: Adviser

To boost the possibilities of progress in denuclearising North Korea, Biden ought to search higher coordination with US allies South Korea and Japan than Trump had in any future diplomatic course of.

Biden would additionally want to hunt cooperation from China as properly, given its essential function.

Biden, who criticised Trump for legitimising Kim via summitry, is unlikely to repeat Trump-style diplomatic negotiations.

Biden confirmed that he would solely be keen to satisfy with Kim if the North Korean chief agrees to attract down Pyongyang’s nuclear functionality.


It’s unclear what sort of negotiation course of, if any, North Korea will likely be keen to pursue after Trump leaves workplace.

North Korea most well-liked the top-down method with Trump, inserting significance on the non-public chemistry between the 2 leaders and avoiding the working-level talks which are essential to hammer out particulars.

READ: ‘Our biggest enemy’: North Korea’s Kim says US policy doesn’t change with presidents

Kim was probably hoping that Trump’s free-wheeling model — that was additionally dismissive of lower-level dialogue — would produce leads to his favour.

The shortage of follow-up was one other key characteristic of this diplomacy, which produced obscure statements however no tangible denuclearisation outcomes.

Whereas North Korea has not dominated out diplomacy with the brand new administration, the nation has made clear that it needs to see the USA make concessions.

Democratic candidate and former US vice president Joe Biden attacked President Donald Trump over his
Democratic candidate and former US vp Joe Biden attacked President Donald Trump over his North Korea diplomacy through the remaining presidential debate at Belmont College in Nashville, Tennessee AFP/Brendan Smialowski

On the just lately concluded eighth Congress of the Staff’ Occasion of Korea in early January, Kim Jong Un labelled the USA as North Korea’s ‘greatest enemy’ and emphasised that the important thing to establishing a brand new bilateral relationship is for the USA to withdraw its ‘hostile coverage’.

This phrase refers to a broad vary of measures on its want checklist, together with the lifting of financial sanctions and an finish to US–South Korea joint navy workout routines.

In the identical assembly, North Korea additionally mentioned it’s going to proceed to pursue quantitative and qualitative enhancements in its nuclear forces and weapons methods.

The nation referred to an unusually detailed checklist of refined weapons which are in growth, together with tactical nuclear weapons and a a number of warhead succesful missile.

Pyongyang probably believes that point is on its facet, as extra weapons imply not solely extra measures to defend the nation but additionally better leverage in any future diplomatic negotiations.


A alternative that Biden faces early in his presidency is whether or not to reverse a pledge Trump made after his first assembly with Kim in Singapore in June 2018. 

Trump introduced then that he would cease US–South Korea joint navy workout routines — which North Korea considers provocative — though there have been no tangible concessions in return.

READ: Commentary: North Korea won’t ever hand over its nuclear weapons

America and South Korea have since suspended or downsized large-scale mixed workout routines. The COVID-19 pandemic additional disrupted the drills in 2020.

Resuming such workout routines would assist US and South Korean forces higher put together for any doable contingencies. However Pyongyang might additionally use their resumption as an excuse to hold out new provocations.

A neater resolution for Biden that is according to his total overseas coverage can be to facilitate nearer consultations with US allies South Korea and Japan on safety points basically and the North Korean menace particularly.

Trump and Kim met twice after their landmark summit in Singapore in 2018
Trump and Kim met twice after their landmark summit in Singapore in 2018 AFP/SAUL LOEB

South Koreans have been shocked when Trump introduced the suspension of US–South Korea navy workout routines with out consulting them. And Japan was frightened that the USA would cut back and even withdraw troops from South Korea, which might have main safety implications for the nation.

Such variations could possibly be exploited by North Korea. To make sure stability within the area, the USA wants to hold out nearer consultations with its allies in regards to the format of negotiations with North Korea and concessions that will influence them in any future diplomacy.

Biden may even want to hunt cooperation with China over North Korea regardless of the chilliness in total relations between Washington and Beijing.

READ: Commentary: This nation holds the important thing to unlocking the North Korea drawback

Whereas the USA and China don’t see eye-to-eye on the North Korean menace, and maybe by no means will, they’ve had success in coordinating approaches in a restricted method previously.

Biden wants to search out this widespread floor with China, which continues to be North Korea’s most essential buying and selling associate and political ally, holding a key to any secure answer to the North Korea drawback.

Whether or not diplomacy will happen between the USA and North Korea is unclear. Ought to it achieve this, Biden ought to be sure that his administration coordinates with key stakeholders to the most effective extent doable.

Naoko Aoki is Adjunct Professor at American College and Analysis Affiliate on the Middle for Worldwide and Safety Research, the College of Maryland. This commentary first appeared in The East Asia Discussion board.


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