Tuesday 11 May 2021 | 15:08 | SYDNEY
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North Korea

Biden’s North Korea plans come into view

The Biden administration recently announced it had completed its North Korea policy review. The White House, through several public statements in recent days, dropped crumbs of details about its approach towards the Kim Jong-un regime and its advancing nuclear weapons program. Depending on the

Is North Korea expertise all talk?

Among Russia, Middle East–North Africa, China and North Korea watchers, there’s a recurrent debate – one responsible for snide comments at conferences, heated social media arguments and even, from what I’ve witnessed, physical altercations. It revolves around one question: Can you be an

South Korea on North Korea: Keep on keeping on

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in’s policy of engagement with North Korea copped a triple whammy in the past two weeks. After months of deliberation, the Joe Biden administration affirmed that the US President would not meet with North Korea Chairman Kim Jong-un, a clear policy break with

With Olympic snub, North Korea returns to isolation

North Korean sports officials announced last week that the country would not be sending athletes to the Tokyo Olympics due to Covid-19 concerns. The brief statement, buried at the bottom of a post on North Korea’s quaint Sports Ministry website, instantly flashed across news bulletins around the

North Korea and Malaysia’s predictable diplomatic divorce

Last Friday, North Korea severed diplomatic relations with Malaysia. In turn Malaysia gave the North Koreans 48 hours to leave the country. By Sunday, the North Korean embassy was empty. The Malaysians did not have to worry about their embassy in Pyongyang, as it was already informally shut down in

Troubles ahead for the US–South Korea alliance

The new Biden administration in Washington is reviewing its North Korea policy, a process that is expected to be completed next month. Pressure from experts is mounting for the administration to restart diplomacy with North Korea with more pragmatic goals, such as a shift away from complete

The ups and downs of the Vietnam–North Korea relationship

When the 2019 Hanoi summit ended in failure, then–US President Donald Trump generously offered his counterpart, North Korean Chairman Kim Jong-un, a ride home on Air Force One. Little did Trump know that unlike him, Kim was in Hanoi not only for the summit. He was also there to revive Vietnam–

When China lashed out

On the wintry night of 27 November 1950, Chinese troops suddenly descended upon the US 1st Marine Division and the 31st Regimental Combat Team around the frozen Chosin Reservoir, less than 100 kilometres away from the China-Korea border. Having failed to dissuade the United States with words from

North Korea’s very odd year

On 1 January 2020, the Workers’ Party of Korea published a report on its goals for the year, emphasising simultaneous economic construction and nuclear development. But with the coronavirus pandemic, a struggling economy and natural disasters, the country has faced a triple whammy. The unexpected

Why Kim Jong-un will soon miss Donald Trump

If US President Donald Trump loses the 3 November election, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un will be first in line to mourn Trump’s departure from the White House. Despite a rocky start (those months of “fire and fury” seem a lifetime ago), the Trump-Kim relationship has grown incredibly in

North Korea’s new missile

To restore your faith in the power of social media, I suggest logging on to Twitter just after a North Korean weapons parade.  Maybe “faith” is too strong a word here. In the heady days of 2011, we dared to hope that Twitter and Facebook would be the tools that toppled dictatorships all

A Biden presidency and the US–South Korea alliance

US presidential candidate Joe Biden, leading in most polls more than two months before the November election, is cautiously expected to win office. On foreign policy, his plan has been characterised as a “restoration project” to rebuild America’s international standing, with the help of allies

US–South Korea: Working group blues

South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in’s appointment of new national security advisers has attracted attention, given their pro-détente stance in spite of North Korea’s latest provocations. The incoming team has rolled out an ambitious agenda to break the stalemate between the North and South

Moon’s North Korea vision up in smoke? Not so fast …

North Korea’s demolition of the inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong on 16 June sent a powerful visual message to the world that North-South relations were degrading. But perhaps equally telling were South Korea’s handling of the destruction and the subsequent personnel and policy

The kind of test the world doesn’t need

In May, the Washington Post reported discussions within the Trump administration about the possibility of conducting the first US nuclear detonation test since 1992, ostensibly as a countermeasure to the nuclear programs of China and Russia. Last month, officials said no tests were planned, but, in

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

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