GP Insights # 212, 4 January 2020
On 1 January, the North Korean leader called off the 'self-declared moratorium', desisting their attempts to denuclearise the Korean peninsula. Surprisingly, Kim Jong Un skipped his annual speech, a tradition since 2013, announcing a new strategy to resume missile tests and counter the American economic sanctions at the four-day party meeting. He also warned to demonstrate a 'new strategic weapon'.
What is the background?
Kim's statement comes after a series of negotiations including North Korea's announcement of 'Christmas Gift' last December.
Trump's 'maximum pressure' policy since 2017 has been central to the escalating tensions in the Korean peninsula. Heightened missile tests during 2017-18 pushed the American administration to pursue hawkish policies against North Korea, including economic sanctions.
During 2018-19, there were a series of diplomatic negotiations between North Korea and the US through two Trump-Kim summits in Singapore and later in Hanoi. The progress from the Singapore Summit, that facilitated the Trump-Kim debut meeting was absent in the 2019 Hanoi summit. The DMZ meet that included their South Korean counterpart helped ease trilateral tensions but did little to advance negotiations on issues encompassing nuclear development.
China's intent to distance the US from East Asian waters may have some bearing on Kim's revitalized geopolitics.
What does it mean?
First, Trump's approach has not been effective in establishing rational precedents. His personal investment in easing tensions around the Korean peninsula may have cost the facade of the American foreign policy. It further paves the way for examining the Republican-Democrat quest in achieving the objective of peace across this region.
Second, Kim indirectly highlights the US's policy efficacy against accepting any change from North Korea. But, his diplomatic experiments have been beneficial in predicting the US's discourse, essentially allowing the isolated kingdom to chart tailored possibilities. Bold statements and strong rhetoric by the North Korean leader is a testimony in this regard including repeated missile tests and military dry runs. Seemingly, North Korea has been tactical in testing waters and pushing its diplomatic reach by the day.
Third, it leads one to question the US's 'maximum pressure policy' on both Iran and North Korea. There has been a drastic shift from the US's 2019 approach to Iran and North Korea considering the present state of affairs. The culture of sanctions in the wake of alternative economic structures and new global capital strings may lead to a change in the international opinion on the US amongst its allies.
Finally, while the US holds pride in retaining regional aspirations, it must be wary of unprecedented challenges. Kim's admission of unsuccessful diplomatic compromises could help him gain sympathizers, but North Korean adventurism and its methods must not go unchecked.