Why there will be no sanction relief for North Korea

North Korea is expected to first show verifiable efforts to denuclearize as a way of gaining relief in trade sanctions.

North Korea is not going to have it easy as Biden is unlikely to ease trade sanctions.  In fact, Pyongyang prefers to deal with Trump, even for all his famed unpredictability, there is a certain comfort in knowing that he has a personal chemistry with Kim Jong Un.  By Sunny Um, South Korea correspondent, Maritime Fairtrade

North Korea has yet to react to the outcome of the presidential election of the United States.  With much drama surrounding President Trump’s unethical challenge to the outcome of a democratic election, Pyongyang appears to be patiently waiting for the dust to settle before showing its hand.  Be that as it may, President-elect Biden’s approach to North Korea will not be the same as his predecessor.    

A North Korea expert says that Biden could have been a less preferred presidential candidate to Trump in the eyes of Pyongyang officials, what with the increase of uncertainty and risk in the bilateral negotiation.

A pledge to denuclearize North Korea

Biden announced that “America is back” after the election result was called. He pledged to restore American leadership in world politics and work closely with the country’s traditional allies to denuclearize North Korea.

During a phone call with South Korean President Moon Jae-in on 12 November, Biden said that the US and South Korea should improve their ties by maintaining defense commitment and work together to solve “the North Korea nuclear issue”.

Former president Barack Obama took a “strategically patient” approach to North Korea, imposing international sanctions against North Korea to cut off imports and exports. His administration expected the country to first show verifiable efforts to denuclearize as a way of gaining relief in sanctions.

“Because Biden was the vice president under the Obama administration, his approach to North Korea would not be starkly different from that of Barack Obama,” said a political science professor who wished to be named only Jeong, as the matter under discussion is deemed to be politically sensitive.  

Jeong, a long-time North Korea observer, told Maritime Fairtrade that Biden’s diplomacy with North Korea will not be starkly different from that under the Obama Administration.

“Former president Obama refrained from having high-profile talks with North Korea unless the country was willing to first show taking some meaningful steps towards denuclearization,” Jeong says. 

“Moving forward, this may be how Biden’s strategy is.  It is different from President Trump’s approach. Trump did not mind being at the negotiation table with Kim (Jong Un).”

North Korea faces uncertainty in the new year

The professor says that Kim Jong Un would have preferred President Trump to win the election, as the two have established some mutual trust from the past few years. The change of administration will mean a fresh start to the relationship between the two countries.

“North Korea’s conversation with the US has been mainly done through Stephan Biegun for the last couple of years,” Jeong said.

Biegun is the incumbent deputy state secretary of the U.S. and former special representative for North Korea. He is expected to be replaced with Biden’s pick in the upcoming administration.

“There would have been some unspoken agreement between Biegun and North Korean officials that is not open to the public or even top-level officials,” she explained.

“A newly replaced US representative for North Korea would not fully understand or even know what that is. This is one factor that will increase the uncertainty of the negotiation between the US and North Korea.”

Also, another reason that Biden’s win will not be good news to North Korea is that as the country seeks some relief in existing international sanctions and help from foreign governments, the incoming administration may not be open to this idea.

“North Korea is in need of some help from other countries, what with devastating impacts of trade sanctions and the COVID-19,” Jeong said. “In order to ask for help, talking to the US is unavoidably essential. I don’t think President-elect Biden is as open as President Trump was with North Korea, however.”

Biden will also not relax the sanctions against North Korea in order to gain or maintain support from the Trump voters and he wants to use this hardline stance to shore up his legitimate win in the presidential race too.

“As Trump refuses to admit his defeat in the election, Biden will try to make his victory seem more widely supported by all fans,” the professor said.

“If he backs off from the issue of denuclearizing North Korea, Trump supporters will criticize him. This can cause a decrease in his approval ratings to the point where it can even threaten the legitimacy of his administration.”

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Sunny Um

Sunny Um

Sunny, our South Korea correspondent working out of Seoul, is a journalist with a passion for community journalism and an interest in economics and politics.

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