At the turn of 2022, Pyongyang dramatically increased the pace of its missile testing, raising fears of renewed North Korean brinksmanship after an extended period of relative calm. That calm was a function, first, of a diplomatic process with the United States that played out during the last three years of U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration and, secondly, of the COVID-19 pandemic. But January saw seven separate testing events, more than during any single calendar month on record. On 5 and again on 11 January, Pyongyang tested what it claimed were hypersonic weapons. It then tested a pair of mobile short-range ballistic missiles – derived from Soviet technology acquired long ago –from a train on 14 January and two “tactical guided missiles” on 17 January.… Seguir leyendo »
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North Korea has just completed its annual review of its own performance at the fourth plenum of the Eighth Congress of the Workers’ Party, held from 27-31 December 2021. What can we learn from this exercise about the state of the country?
Under Kim Jong-un, Pyongyang politics tick along on a system of five-year “congresses”, the most recent of which was held in January 2021 (and should run to 2026). These five-year cycles are then punctuated by fairly regular plenums, including the one that ended on 31 December. What we got in a lengthy article on 1 January was a report on that plenum, which amounts to a kind of annual review of the party’s performance, and an indicator of the challenges it has identified for the year ahead.… Seguir leyendo »
In the autumn months, the two Koreas put on something of a military show for the world. As they flexed their muscles – testing missiles and displaying new capabilities – commentators speculated about an accelerating arms race and wondered whether the peninsula might be headed for a crisis moment after several quiet years. Since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and U.S. President Donald Trump exchanged taunts in 2017, including Trump’s famous threat to rain down “fire and fury” if Kim crossed his red lines, the peninsula has been relatively calm. But while the possibility of a sudden escalation in tensions can never be fully dismissed, particularly given North Korea’s penchant for wilfully unpredictable behaviour, the autumn’s activity does not necessarily augur a spike in near-term instability.… Seguir leyendo »
What has happened since the first U.S.-North Korea summit in Singapore?
At the conclusion of the Singapore summit last June, the U.S. and North Korea issued a statement calling for a new bilateral relationship, a stable peninsular peace regime, efforts toward denuclearisation of the peninsula, and the recovery of U.S. soldiers’ remains from the Korean War. The statement lacked detail as to how and when these goals might be achieved. These gaps had the advantage of not setting the bar too high, but the pervasive vagueness was criticized.
The lack of clear direction from Singapore contributed to patchy dialogue through the rest of the year and – though both sides took what might be viewed as confidence-building steps – no major progress was made.… Seguir leyendo »
President Moon Jae-in of South Korea arrived in Pyongyang early on Tuesday for a three-day visit. The outcomes of this summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un will set the tempo for the remainder of 2018 and beyond. But progress between the two Koreas is partly dependent on reversing the decline in U.S.-North Korean engagement since the 12 June meeting in Singapore between Kim and President Donald Trump.
For North Korea, the diplomatic dance began on 9 September with the 70th anniversary of its establishment as a separate state, celebrated with a military parade in Kim Il-sung Square and a revival of the country’s famed gymnastic displays, the Mass Games.… Seguir leyendo »
Doubts and questions swirled before the momentous 12 June summit in Singapore between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Could any good come of a meeting for which preparation seemed to be last-minute and inadequate? Was one of the two unconventional, risk-taking leaders going to pull a rabbit out of a hat? Whose purposes would the summit serve? Was it theatre channelling the domestic political compulsions of Trump and/or Kim? Would it live up to the hopes and calm the fears of U.S. allies South Korea and Japan? Would it bolster or weaken regional security and the balance of power?… Seguir leyendo »
What's happening in Korea?
The leaders of North and South Korea, Kim Jong-un and Moon Jae-in met in the Korean War truce village of Panmunjom today. It was the third inter-Korean summit, and the first such meeting in a decade.
The meeting was rich with symbolism. Every element, from the size of the conference table to the dinner menu, suggested deeper meaning. The pine tree Kim and Moon planted near the inter-Korean border was nourished with soil from the highest mountains in North and South Korea, Paektu and Halla, and water from the Han and Taedong rivers that run through the two Korean capital cities.… Seguir leyendo »
When North Korean leader Kim Jong-un on 26 March secretly rolled into Beijing on a private armoured train for unofficial meetings with President Xi Jinping, China moved decisively centre stage in the Korean peninsula drama. China also likely gave its truculent neighbour invaluable assurances and leverage for upcoming talks on its nuclear and ballistic missile program.
For a few weeks in March, it appeared as though China, preoccupied with its own internal political wrangling and reforms, might have been sidelined by the whirlwind Korean Olympic diplomacy. Kim Jong-un’s sister descended upon the Pyeongchang winter games, envoys from Moon Jae-in dined with Kim himself in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK) capital, and finally, those same South Korean envoys revealed that U.S.… Seguir leyendo »
The surprise announcement on 8 March that U.S. President Donald Trump would meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by May has overshadowed analysis of talks in Pyongyang between North and South Korean officials earlier in the week. But those talks were of deep significance. They positioned South Korea as a conduit to Trump, and set the stage for him to accept Kim Jong-un’s proposal. Moreover, the way the talks in Pyongyang progressed offers clues as to prospects for the forthcoming talks between the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) and the U.S.
When Kim sat down to dinner with the delegation from Seoul, he took the inter-Korean Winter Olympics rapprochement another step forward.… Seguir leyendo »
North Korea’s decision to dispatch Kim Jong-un’s younger sister Yo-jong to South Korea (Republic of Korea, ROK) as part of a delegation to the PyeongChang Winter Olympics has opened up the possibility for the past month of sports diplomacy to garner something more substantive and lasting. With all parties to the Korean peninsula conflict sending senior delegations to South Korea for the Games, everyone should take a moment to give diplomacy a chance.
Kim Yo-jong’s visit is one outcome of high-level talks between the two Koreas during January, a process that started with Kim Jong-un using the annual North Korean leader’s address on 1 January to call for a successful New Year for both Koreas.… Seguir leyendo »
North Korea’s launch of a missile over Japan early on Monday morning was certainly irresponsible. But for Pyongyang, it was more of a carefully calculated risk than a reckless gamble. It is the latest step in a strategy aimed not to get into a shooting war but designed to build up the nuclear and missile capabilities that the regime firmly believes it needs.
A potential nuclear power firing missiles is of course enough to put the world on edge – and possibly provoke retaliation. Even mainstream U.S. commentators such as Council on Foreign Relations President Richard Haass are now suggesting that Pyongyang’s apparent irresponsibility is so great that it undermines faith in deterrence as a strategy and turns “a preventive strike [into] a serious option, notwithstanding its high risks and potential costs”.… Seguir leyendo »
North Korea once again captured the world’s attention when it boldly warned that it is ready to fire missiles over Japan toward the U.S. territory of Guam. The unusually specific and unacceptable North Korean declaration rattled governments in Seoul, Tokyo and Washington. But Pyongyang’s real target is not Guam, but to ensure it remains at the centre of the conversation. In this it has been significantly aided and abetted by U.S. President Donald Trump, who took with gusto to the unwise practice of trading direct threats with the Kim Jong-un regime.
Both sides have been contributing to an unhelpfully febrile and tense atmosphere.… Seguir leyendo »
The death of an American tourist just days after he was released from North Korean custody and repatriated to his home in Ohio has cast another long shadow over relations between Pyongyang and Washington. 22-year-old Otto Warmbier was in a coma when he departed the North Korean capital last week, and had apparently been in that condition for over a year. He appears to have been released and sent home only in order that he might die with his family around him, rather than in the unbending isolation of distant Pyongyang.
It is unclear how Warmbier ended up in a coma, and the entirely reasonable decision of his family to refuse an autopsy means that we probably never will.… Seguir leyendo »
Why have tensions risen on the Korean Peninsula this year?
Tensions are driven higher, as ever, by the North Korean nuclear and missile programs and evidence suggesting that Pyongyang is making notable progress toward deployment. However, this year there have been additional complicating factors.
Since the Trump administration took office, a number of U.S. officials, including Secretary of Defense James Mattis and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, have declared emphatically that the previous Obama administration policy of “strategic patience” is dead. This has been replaced by a firm rhetorical commitment to resolve the “North Korea problem” during the Trump term, and at times it has seemed as if there could be a willingness to use force to achieve this goal.… Seguir leyendo »
The North Korean long-range rocket that took off from the country’s northwest coast this morning poses a fresh round of searching questions for governments all the way from Beijing to Washington DC. Pyongyang’s second successful launch of a satellite, coming so soon after its fourth nuclear detonation on 6 January, threatens to set the tone for relations around the region for the coming year.
Preparations for the launch were meticulous. Following the blast-off at 9.30am, the state-controlled broadcaster KCTV announced a news bulletin to be shown live at 12.30pm. News of a “complete success” was then duly conveyed by Ri Chun-hee – a famous newscaster – dressed in her trademark bright pink.… Seguir leyendo »