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Kim’s silence: what surprise is the North Korean leader preparing for Biden?

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Relations between North Korea and the US have always been far from being friendly

Faced with the change of administration in the White House, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would be planning his next move.

Japanese Nikkei argues that there are indications that Kim is trying to change things on the Korean Peninsula.

There are many factors that darken the prospects for relations between Pyongyang and Washington: in a presidential debate in October Biden called Kim a “bully” and criticized the current president, Donald Trump, for befriending him.

For the new US president, North Korea may not be priority: it has a lot of other problems to attend to, most notably the fight against the coronavirus. However, various diplomatic sources indicate that both his advisers and foreign policy experts are pressuring Biden to restart disarmament negotiations with North Korea, according to Nikkei columnist Hiroshi Minegishi.

The Biden Administration will seek a gradual denuclearization of North Korea, and this coincides with the kind of disarmament negotiations Pyongyang wants, admitted a high-ranking former South Korean official quoted by Nikkei. 

North Korea is believed to have between 20 and 60 nuclear warheads. And to transport them, in the second half of 2017 they have tested ballistic missiles with atypical flight paths that are difficult to track and intercept. 

In turn, the former presidential adviser of South Korea, Chon Yong-U, believed that a “gradual denuclearization” would be the most likely scenario of the situation. He claims that the experts on Biden’s team do not believe in the possibility of immediate denuclearization. 

For this, “they will seek to prevent North Korea from improving its nuclear development capacity and then they will opt for a measure to reduce nuclear weapons, starting with those that threaten the United States.”

Unlike Trump, who advocates for big deals as a businessman, Biden considers himself an expert in diplomacy and tends to go for smaller deals, Chon concluded.

Meanwhile, it is still uncertain what could prompt both nations to resume negotiations. Pyongyang set a high bar to restart bilateral talks, demanding the removal of sanctions and an end to joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea, among other conditions.

Despite the fact that a month and a half has passed since the presidential elections, neither Kim nor the North Korean media have mentioned the results of the US elections. 

Some experts say Pyongyang is trying to gather negotiation chips before talks with the United States. And Kim is likely to make “dramatic proposals” to freeze nuclear development to get the new president’s attention.

Given that Kim is unlikely to make big moves anytime soon, analysts are trying to determine when he will break his silence. To probe Biden’s position, Pyongyang is expected to ask the incoming US Administration to uphold the commitments mentioned in the joint statement issued after the 2018 US-North Korea summit, including establishing bilateral ties and fostering mutual trust.

And if Biden doesn’t respond favourably, North Korea could resort to testing its ballistic missiles and even testing new weapons and missiles to get attention, the Nikkei columnist writes.

The speech at the North Korean Workers’ Party convention in early 2021 could clarify Kim’s strategy. It is possible that he will send a message to the United States there.

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