By James Moules
JOE Biden’s administration is unlikely to prioritise North Korea or the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, leading experts have told Redaction Politics.
Donald Trump’s brinkmanship with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un dominated headlines in the first half of his term.
While Pyongyang carried out nuclear and ballistic missile tests, Trump exchanged apocalyptic threats with North Korea (officially the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or DPRK).
Following summits in which Kim met South Korean President Moon Jae-in and later Trump himself, the crisis was de-escalated and a US-North Korean war avoided.
In spite of an agreement committing to denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, Kim Jong-un declared an end to the freeze of nuclear tests at the beginning of 2020.
But experts have told Redaction Politics that this is unlikely to be a priority for the incoming Biden administration.
Jim Hoare of SOAS and Chatham House – and Britain’s first diplomatic representative to the DPRK – said: “I am not sure that there is much they can do without a fundamental rethink of policy.
“The DPRK is under heavy sanctions and it seems clear that increasing them would only have the effect of making Kim more determined than ever not to give in to pressure.
“They would also increasingly affect ordinary Koreans, which is unlikely to change regime policy but would make life very difficult for people who can have little or no effect on the government.”
Dr Sojin Lim, Co-Director of the International Institute of Korean Studies of the University of Central Lancashire, said: “Biden will not follow the notion of Trump, for sure, and thus his policy on North Korea will be in line with more traditional diplomacy. As known, Biden himself is an expert on nuclear issues, and he must know that denuclearisation takes long time and requires step-by-step process.”
“Also, he and his people are well aware of that Kim Jong-un is not going to give up his nuclear power. On top of it, North Korea issue is not on Biden’s priority – he has a lot more important issues, such as Covid-19 and economy at the domestic level. Hence the reason, there was no reason for Biden to chase up with North Korea issue in near future.”
Dr Hoare added that Pyongyang might also have different priorities than this time four years ago.
He said: “The North Koreans might try to bring pressure on them [Biden’s administration] by actually resuming nuclear and ICBM testing, rather than just saying that they are going to do it.
“But I think that there will be caution on that side too. Kim Jong-un has pledged economic improvements and may make that his immediate priority.”
Fighting in the Korean War ended in 1953, although both North Korea and South Korea (officially the Republic of Korea, or ROK) technically are still at war.
At their summit in April 2018, Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in declared a commitment to formally establishing peace between the two Koreas.
However, in June 2020 a joint liaison building set up two years earlier in Kaesong was destroyed – and an official peace declaration is yet to materialise.
Dr Lim said that Joe Biden and Moon Jae-in will likely have different concerns regarding any potential reunification of the two Koreas.
“It is important to keep the peace process in Korea peninsula, but what Biden administration would pursue would not necessarily on the same route as how South Korean government approaches,” she said.
“Biden’s rule will require longer process than Moon Jae-in’s. Moon Jae-in, President of South Korea, has only two more years to go for his term, which he would like to hurry in the process.
“Biden would not necessarily need to hurry in this issue. As North Korea is kind of a buffer zone for both China and the US, none of them may not even want to have unification in the peninsula.”
Dr Hoare said: “I think it is early days to be able to discern what his [Biden’s] approach will be.
“There is a Democratic tradition of hostility towards the DPRK – Truman, Kennedy – but there is also one of engagement – Carter, especially out of office, Clinton eventually.
“I think the ROK government will look to Biden for support in its endeavours to engage with the DPRK. How much of a priority it will be depends on what the DPRK does – or does not do – and how much else has to be dealt with quickly – quite a lot I should think.”
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