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Pyongyang’s promises

Immediately after the Singapore summit on 12 June, US President Donald Trump proclaimed that North Korea no longer posed a nuclear threat, and that the denuclearisation process would follow in accordance with the two leaders’ joint statement. However, three weeks later, Kim Jong-un does

Reunification out of reach

The Trump–Kim summit in Singapore was the first step towards persuading North Korea to join the few countries that have relinquished nuclear weapons. It also presents the best chance since the Clinton administration’s breakthroughs in 2000 to normalise relations.  But

It’s all up to Moon now

The Trump–Kim summit last week in Singapore was a nothingburger – not good or bad, just nothing new really at all. After months of hype, including grossly inflated talk of CVID (complete, verifiable, irreversible disarmament) and a Nobel prize, US President Donald Trump’s meeting with North

Should Shinzo Abe happen to meet Kim Jong-un

In recent weeks, Northeast Asia has enjoyed an unprecedented season of summitry. Spurred by a common desire to curb the North Korean nuclear threat, key leaders from the region have held historic bilateral talks with Kim Jong-un in close succession. Despite the fact that a concrete denuclearisation

Taking a stand for North Korean rocket engine tests

While many results from the recent Trump–Kim summit are yet to emerge, we can at least ponder one immediate and tangible outcome. North Korea has announced it is dismantling a rocket/missile engine test stand, which has been used to develop its ballistic missile capability as well as its space

Trump-Kim summit: China smiles

As analysts and pundits rake through the breadcrumbs dropped after the Trump–Kim summit in Singapore, one thing is for certain: the People’s Republic of China (hereafter “China”) is happy. The relationship between China and North Korea has been described as “as close as lips and teeth

Human rights missing in Trump–Kim summit

The 2014 UN Commission of Inquiry into North Korean human rights was a rallying cry for the international community to take immediate action to address the egregious nature of abuses in the country. Thanks to the concerted efforts of a transnational coalition of dedicated activists, the North

The Supreme Leader and his bodyguards

The Singapore summit between Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump has all the drama of a Hollywood production, including glimpses the world is getting of the entourage travelling with the North Korean leader. One of the most visually striking elements of this entourage has been Kim’s phalanx of

Trump-Kim summit: history happens

The handshake lasted 12 seconds, body language experts tell us. That’s not quite the full minute Donald Trump had predicted it would take him to judge whether Kim Jong-un was ready to make a deal, but whatever the substance behind the showcase, this summit is indeed an extraordinary moment in

North Korea: beyond an all-or-nothing ultimatum

Unsurprisingly, North Korea played a major role at the Shangri-La Dialogue in Singapore over the weekend, as the focus of the event’s second main panel, and cropped up in discussion throughout. North Korea, of course, did not attend, and China lamentably insists on sending only mid-level

Summit cancelled: advantage Pyongyang

US President Donald Trump’s decision, conveyed in a personal letter to Kim Jong-un, to cancel the Singapore summit scheduled for 12 June is not unexpected. It will prompt relief and disappointment in equal measure, but the pessimists have been proved right. The gulf of expectation and

The prospect of North Korea’s economic reform

Amid the huge fanfare North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in generated at the third inter-Korean summit, the two leaders made a huge step forward in economic cooperation between Seoul and Pyongyang. During the summit, Kim told Moon that he preferred the

Talking North Korea in Australia

This month, I was in Australia for events hosted by the Lowy Institute and Sydney Writers’ Festival respectively. The questions were excellent, and I would like to take advantage of this space to expand on some of the topics brought up. Generally speaking, the questions at the

Collapsing North Korea’s nuclear test site

The announcement that North Korea will decommission its nuclear test site at Punggye-ri is a big step in what is hopefully a march towards peaceful times on the Korean Peninsula. But the decommissioning process leans heavily on theatre over substance. At this stage, it is not clear if

Method in Trump’s madness on Iran

There has been widespread condemnation of US President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal, including from Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, who expressed “regret”. Besides having ramifications for US relations with European powers, Russia and China, who all

Trump–Kim summit: what’s in the venue?

The venue and date for the Donald Trump–Kim Jong-un summit have yet to be announced, but it appears likely to take place in late May or early June. Panmunjom, on the southern side of the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ), has emerged as the clear frontrunner. But there is still a possibility that the

Deciphering symbols at the inter-Korean summit

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s charm offensive continues with his first meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in in the Demilitarized Zone on Friday. At the end of the third Inter-Korean summit, the two leaders inked the Panmunjom Declaration to show their commitment to the

Why definitions will be crucial for North-South talks 

In just over a week, President of South Korea Moon Jae-in will sit with his northern counterpart, Supreme Leader of North Korea Kim Jong-un, at Panmunjom, the historic site of the 1953 armistice, for the third instalment of the inter-Korean summit (to be broadcast live). The summit will occur

The peril of North Korea’s charm offensive

Since the first days of 2018, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has undertaken a series of diplomatic activities whose scope and significance are rivalled only by his missile and nuclear tests. The fact that Kim made his first overseas trip to China, attended a K-pop performance in Pyongyang,

Hot take: what does Kim Jong-un’s trip to China mean?

So it’s now confirmed that Kim Jong-un went to China in the past few days to meet Xi Jinping. And apparently Xi will now go to Pyongyang. Breaking: Photos of secret talks between Kim Jong-un and Xi Jinping emerge in the Chinese media https://t.co/kdnPKQixGq pic.twitter.com/G7tQh0Amd8— Javier C

Moon versus Abe and the contest for America’s ear

A battle is underway between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in over their differing approaches to North Korea. They are competing to shape the attitudes of US President Donald Trump, and this contest has been a compelling sideshow at the PyeongChang Winter

Olympic détente just another North Korean deceit

It is tempting to view North Korea’s participation in the Winter Olympics as an olive branch, a step back from the edge of nuclear brinkmanship. That’s certainly how much of the media is choosing to see it. Of course, it helps that the North Korean “unification” team is accompanied by

Sanction busting, North Korea–style

A recent report from the UN sanctions committee suggests that North Korea has been able to generate an estimated US$200 million from illicit dealings in the past year. Coal is being exported to China, Malaysia, Russia, and Vietnam in violation of current sanctions, and weapons (and materials

China’s agenda behind inter-Korean talks

The first two weeks of 2018 have seen a significant thaw in inter-Korean tensions. In the highest-level talks between North and South Korea since December 2015, Pyongyang agreed to send a delegation to the 2018 South Korean Winter Olympics. China welcomed the developments, which it considers, in its

Don’t assume North Korea is happy with the status quo

In an earlier Interpreter article I argued the need for policy makers in the US and elsewhere to consider not only the now well-rehearsed and well-founded risks of attempting to compel Pyongyang to give up its nuclear weapons, but also the often overlooked but equally well-founded risks of

North Korea probably does not seriously seek unification

After North Korea burnished its credentials last year as a nuclear-armed state, there's been much discussion about what Pyongyang aims to do with its nuclear missiles. The panic in the western media has been palpable. But so is the contrast with the South Korean media's more sanguine response. I

An emerging role for the UN in the North Korean crisis

Last month, the UN Under-Secretary-General for Political Affairs Jeffrey Feltman visited North Korean officials to promote a political solution to heightened tensions over Pyongyang's nuclear program. Feltman's mission has not received the attention it should have. The visit was the first

China and North Korea: Following the paper trail

Bill Gertz, senior editor of The Washington Free Beacon, specialises in scoops. But even by his high standards, his 2 January story that states a ‘(s)ecret Chinese Communist Party document reveals covert support to North Korea, including missiles, increased aid’ was a major coup. If true, Gertz

Clear messages required in Twitter-age of diplomacy

Robert Ayson is quite right to pick me up on the distinction between pre-emptive and preventative military strikes. My post on Australia’s policy towards a US attack on North Korea argued Australia should make clear that it would not support a pre-emptive US strike at the North’s nuclear and

What should Australia rule out on North Korea?

In place of Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull's ambiguous commitment to support US military action against North Korea, Hugh White wants a clear statement ruling out Australia's participation in a 'pre-emptive' attack. But in turn there are two points of ambiguity in White's argument that may get in

North Korean nuclear crisis: Talks still the best option

North Korea has just carried out its sixth nuclear test, claimed to be of a hydrogen bomb suitable for fitting on a missile capable of reaching the United States. At this stage there is insufficient information to determine whether it was a true hydrogen (fusion) weapon or a less-technically

In China, changing online attitudes towards Korea

Additional research by Zixin Wang, an intern in the Lowy Institute's East Asia Program. Shen Zhihua, a world-renowned Chinese scholar of the Cold War, recently proposed that 'North Korea is China's latent enemy and South Korea could be China's friend'. His comments, made at Dalian University of

Australia needs to show some force

Last week key treaty allies South Korea and Japan joined the US Navy's 7th Fleet for separate joint exercises in the waters west of Japan in a demonstration of force against Pyongyang's latest taunts of nuclear war. However powerful this demonstration may have been, it was still missing one key US

North Korea: ‘A most enterprising country’

A myth told and re-told in the West is that North Korea, a 'hermit kingdom' and 'pariah state', is cut off from the outside world. North Korean people suffer indescribable isolation, socially, politically and geographically. But as Justin Hastings, Associate Professor in International Relations

Three questions about North Korea

Below, I tease out a few below-the-radar observations in the form of three questions. Each addresses the problem from a different angle. 1. Is the Trump Administration as serious about confronting North Korea as appears? It's tempting to hang the tag of adventurism on an impulsive character like

North Korea is getting better at ballistic missiles

The recent ballistic missile test by North Korea leaves plenty of issues for dissection. One obvious aspect to consider is the timing, which was clearly designed to send a political message to both the United States and Japan. The technical issues are more complex. Scrutinising the North Korean

North Korea: Breaking geopolitical deadlock

By Jana Hajzlerova and Michael Raska Current international policy vectors toward North Korea have largely failed to curtail North Korea’s WMD programs and change its policies.  As Pyongyang prepares for a possible sixth nuclear test, it’s clear a new approach is called for. This year

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