January 17, 2021

Your move, Mr President’: North Korea sets the stage for Biden

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un celebrated his birthday with a long wish-list of new weapons.

It included more accurate long-range missiles, super large warheads, spy satellites and a nuclear-powered submarine.

The military plans announced during one of the biggest political events in North Korea in the last five years may sound threatening – and it is indeed a threat.

But it’s also a challenge. The timing of this message is key as it comes as US President-elect Joe Biden prepares to take office.

Mr Kim, who has also now been promoted to Secretary General (the highest rank of the ruling Worker’s Party), is struggling to be heard outside his own country amidst the current tumult in the US.

But if the incoming US administration harbours any hopes of preventing Mr Kim’s nuclear ambitions, now might be the time to listen.

“Kim’s announcements no doubt are meant to emphasise to the incoming US administration that a failure to take quick action will result in North Korea qualitatively advancing its capabilities in ways deleterious to US and South Korean interests,” said Ankit Panda, author of Kim Jong-un and the Bomb, adding that Joe Biden’s administration should take this seriously.

People in Seoul, South Korea, watch breaking news of North Korea's missile launch in July 2019
People in Seoul, South Korea, watch breaking news of a North Korean missile launch in July 2019
Mr Kim and Donald Trump met three times, but they failed to reach any agreement to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons programme or the current crippling economic sanctions imposed on Pyongyang by the US and the UN.

The questions being asked on the Korean peninsula are whether Joe Biden can do any better, and whether he should take Mr Kim’s threat seriously.

“I think the president-elect should take that at face value and, as soon as possible, clarify his perspective on what objectives his administration will seek in potential negotiations with North Korea,” said Mr Panda.

“If Kim sees no shift from the traditional US emphasis on comprehensive and total nuclear disarmament before any sanctions can be eased, I’d think he’ll simply push ahead with testing and other activities,” he added.

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