Tuesday 14 Jul 2020 | 20:21 | SYDNEY
What's happening on

North Korea

Can inter-Korean peace be salvaged from the latest wreckage?

North Korea’s demolition of the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong last week is a huge setback to Pyongyang’s relations with Seoul. Unfortunately the situation can get even worse. One day after the building was brought crashing down – a dramatic reminder to the rest of the world about

North Korea may have benefited from the pandemic after all

Recent news reports about North Korea reopening its schools and easing its restrictions on border trade with China after more than four months of coronavirus-related closure indicate that normalcy is returning to the Hermit Kingdom. While it would be far-fetched to fairly evaluate Pyongyang’s

Where did Kim Jong-un go?

The three-week disappearance by North Korea’s chairman Kim Jong-un prompted plenty of questions. Could a succession crisis unfold? Might it go even further, with the risk that North Korea could collapse? Analysts have long argued that Kim’s health is a wild card when it comes to regime

Covid-19 will kill Moon Jae-in’s Korea détente

South Korea has become the country worst hit by the novel coronavirus outside of China, with numbers of confirmed Covid-19 cases now more than 7500 and deaths more than 50. South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in has faced severe criticism in recent weeks for his handling of the virus ­– an online

North Korea’s ambiguous New Year message

Christmas and New Year came and went without a bang on the Korean peninsula, even though North Korea had warned of a “Christmas gift” for the United States and the horrendous consequences of missing its arbitrarily set “end-of-year” deadline in the months before. Despite its series of

“Maximum pressure” demands diplomatic off-ramps

With Donald Trump facing an impeachment trial in the Senate and a tough re-election battle, some US rivals see the president as politically weakened, risk-averse in exerting military pressure, and incapable of delivering on diplomatic commitments. The American drone strike killing General Qassim

Moon Jae-in’s foreign policy reorientation

South Korean President Moon Jae-in is changing South Korean foreign policy. He has allowed Seoul’s relationship with the United States and Japan to deteriorate while betting heavily that North Korea would embrace his détente effort. This risks isolating South Korea, and the conservative pushback

North Korea’s deadline logic

Ever since Chairman Kim Jong-un issued the end-of-year deadline in April for nuclear negotiations, North Korea has displayed a stubborn attitude. From launching a series of new short and medium-range missiles, dragging its feet at the working-level talks, to showing no signs of compromise at

Why does North Korea keep dragging its feet?

The long-awaited US–North Korea working-level talks collapsed last week, as Washington and Pyongyang could not agree on the definition of “denuclearisation” and mutual concessions. This followed the recent test of a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) by North Korea and insistence on

North Korea under Kim Jong-un: Podcast out now

Episode 10 of the Lowy Institute’s new podcast, Rules Based Audio, is out today. In Socialist Paradise: North Korea under Kim Jong-un, the Washington Post Beijing bureau chief and author Anna Fifield talks about how the strange, closed country is changing under its young leader. And

The Amazing Race flies into North Korea

Even as tensions between the United States and North Korea remain high ­– North Korea’s First Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui recently berated the US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for describing Pyongyang’s behaviour as “rogue” ­– the North Korean charm offensive is still in full

Is North Korea still interested in working-level talks?

Barely a month after the historic handshake at the Korean Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), North Korea returned to provocations by unveiling its new “strategic” ballistic missile submarine and testing short-range ballistic missiles. US President Donald Trump and North Korea Chairman Kim Jong-un had

The pitfalls of North Korea’s summitry spectacle

The third meeting between US President Donald Trump and North Korea Chairman Kim Jong-un has come and gone, again without much substantial progress, but its symbolism has continued to dominate Korea watchers’ assessments of the event. Trump last month became the first sitting US president to set

Book review: The Great Successor

Book Review: The Great Successor: The Divinely Perfect Destiny of Brilliant Comrade Kim Jong-un, Sun of the 21st Century, by Anna Fifield (Hachette, 2019) Anna Fifield’s The Great Successor is a wonderful narrative, weaving together Kim Jong-un’s childhood (and adulthood) basketball

Just why is the North Korean status quo so persistent?

Last month in The Interpreter, I argued that inter-Korean status quo is deeply persistent. US President Donald Trump and South Korean President Moon Jae-in have tried all sorts of tactics in the last 28 months to change things, yet nothing seems to work. In 2017, Trump reached to the limits of

Why North Korea will not return to outright provocations

Despite the hype that surrounded the April 2018 summit of leaders from South and North Korea, the first anniversary of the meeting did not attract much attention – and was ignored by North Korea. South Korea had sought to use the anniversary as a way to resuscitate the stalled denuclearisation

North Korea’s uranium and prospects of a stealthier bomb

Verifying North Korea’s nuclear stockpile will be a critical part of any future disarmament negotiations. As past experience with other nations demonstrates, it is also a tricky process. North Korea will be expected to supply an inventory of their weapons stockpile, its fissile material and the

The persistent status quo with North Korea

It is a commonplace in media treatments of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, or North Korea) to view the previous two years as remarkable. This is often premised on the notion that the heavy American and South Korean (ROK, or Republic of Korea) engagement with the North since 2017

Making a murderer: the assassination of Kim Jong-nam

Two years of James Bond-esque intrigue following Kim Jong-nam’s assassination in Malaysia have fizzled out, with backroom negotiations seeing murder charges dropped against the two women previously alleged to have killed the North Korean. Ultimately, Malaysia didn’t allow detail to get in the

The limits of Moon Jae‑in’s shuttle diplomacy

Six weeks after the Hanoi summit, South Korean President Moon Jae-in is about to visit Washington in an effort to keep up the dialogue between the United States and North Korea. Moon’s 11 April trip will take place against a troubled backdrop, of North Korea’s threat to walk away from the

The “satellite clause” for North Korea’s rockets

Numerous reports give weight to the theory that North Korea will soon stage another satellite launch, the first since February 2016. North Korea has only ever placed two satellites into orbit, and neither of them worked. But North Korea did chalk up one achievement. It beat South Korea in the race

Kim and Trump, again: North Korea’s drives the wedge

Despite inflated pre-summit expectations that US President Donald Trump and North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un would sign a deal involving at least some sanctions relief, liaison offices, an end of war declaration, and agreement for North Korea to dismantle its nuclear facilities, the fact that Hanoi

Political leadership versus diplomacy

Following the Trump-Kim summits and a gush of commentary on “presidential diplomacy”, “face-to-face diplomacy”, “summit diplomacy”, and even “Trumpian diplomacy”, we’ve somehow come to accept politicians as diplomats. It may be time to recall the difference – before it

Four reasons why China supports North Korea

Of all the countries on the sidelines of the Hanoi summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un, few were watching more intently than China. Chinese financial and trade support effectively facilitated North Korea’s nuclear program by keeping its economy afloat and thus fractured the chances of a

Kim-Trump 2.0: three observations

Assessing the import and impact of the Trump-Kim summits is a challenge. The visual spectacle of the two “colourful” leaders, both of whom prize the optics almost more than the substance of meetings, can prove highly distracting. Viewed from Beijing or Pyongyang’s perspective, the two

The legacy of nationalism in Korea

South Korea has a national holiday on the first day of March to commemorate the start of the 1919 March First Movement. A century later, the legacy of the movement still resonates in both North and South Korea.  In South Korea, the constitution which had been established in 1919 by the

The Vietnamese venue will shape the second Trump-Kim summit

The news is in. US President Donald Trump will meet North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un for the second time on February 27-28. Instead of Singapore, this time Vietnam will play host. Although there are many concerns regarding the prospect of success for the second summit and North Korea’s

Getting a better outcome from the second Trump-Kim summit

If press reports are accurate, US President Donald Trump and North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-un will again meet this month. They met for the first time last June in Singapore. Rumour suggests this meeting will be in Vietnam. The first summit was sharply criticised as a photo-op for Trump –

A blast from North Korean past

Appealing to South Korea with proposals of peaceful unification, while at the same time demonising foreigners occupying the Korean Peninsula, is one of the oldest pages in Pyongyang’s rhetorical playbook. Pyongyang is clearly painting a picture for Seoul that relations going forward could come

North Korea’s “selective détente”

Almost two weeks have passed since Kim Jong-un delivered his 2019 New Year Address. He informed the world of his intention to capitalise on his diplomatic victories to enhance North Korea’s international status. He also expressed his willingness to continue the détente with South Korea and

Best of The Interpreter 2018: Talking with Kim Jong-un

How to capture a year of extraordinary diplomacy on the Korean peninsula, that started out with bragging about the size of a nuclear button to a cozy photo-op with the US President and North Korea’s supreme leader. Perhaps Khang Vu put it best, asking whether the so-called “Olympic truce”

Why denuclearisation is less important for South Korea

One of the most commented upon elements of this year’s outreach effort toward North Korea is the possible drift in the US-South Korean alliance. It has been widely noted that the US is tightly focused on nuclear weapons and missiles, seeking a narrow arms control deal. The US would clearly be

North Korea’s emerging blackmail strategy

A recent New York Times article has drawn much criticism from the US intelligence community for depicting North Korea’s continued missile development as “a Great Deception.” Analysts have responded by proclaiming that North Korea has never agreed to cease its missile and nuclear

Is the second Trump-Kim summit necessary?

The third summit between the leaders of North and South Korea last month was a huge accomplishment for Moon Jae-in and Kim Jong-un. At home, Moon’s approval rating shot up from 49% in early September to 65% a week after the summit, largely due to his successful efforts to jump start the

Daylight robbery: cyber escapades of North Korea

When a gang robs a bank, it’s a crime. When a nation launches an attack on another state’s territory, it’s an act of war. But what is it when a nation state robs another state’s banks, without ever setting foot on their soil? While political leaders and policymakers are increasingly aware

Fawning and flummery winning over love-sick Donald

In the last six months, US President Donald Trump has “fallen in love” with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. He has also been persuaded that Kim respects him, likely because he called him “your excellency” in his “beautiful letters”. South Korean President Moon Jae-in has claimed Trump

The human side of Moon and Kim’s agreement

The past two years have been full of unexpected twists and stalled promises in the relationship between North Korea and South Korea, as well as their ties with the United States. Yet Wednesday seemed to mark a major breakthrough in inter-Korean relations, with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un Kim

Pages