Thus far in his presidency, Joe Biden doesn’t seem to have expended a lot of energy on matters of foreign policy aside from a few mandatory phone calls with world leaders. He hasn’t even been in much of a hurry to appoint new foreign ambassadors. There’s one situation that’s not going to stay on the back burner forever, though, and that’s our relationship (or lack thereof) with North Korea. The Associated Press is reporting that some efforts at diplomacy have been made in the background, though not much has come of it. Today, however, dictator Kim Jong-un’s sister brought the matter out in the open, warning Washington to not “cause a stink” during upcoming diplomatic meetings in Japan and South Korea.
In North Korea’s first comments directed at the Biden administration, Kim Jong Un’s powerful sister on Tuesday warned the United States to “refrain from causing a stink” if it wants to “sleep in peace” for the next four years.
Kim Yo Jong’s statement was issued as U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin arrived in Asia to talk with U.S. allies Japan and South Korea about North Korea and other regional issues. They have meetings in Tokyo on Tuesday before speaking to officials in Seoul on Wednesday.
“We take this opportunity to warn the new U.S. administration trying hard to give off (gun) powder smell in our land,” she said. “If it wants to sleep in peace for coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step.”
Foreign policy analysts who are familiar with the situation on the Korean Peninsula recognize what’s going on here. If Kim Jong-un wasn’t successful in getting the sanctions against his country dropped by Donald Trump, he holds little to no hope of any progress with Biden. This message from Kim’s sister marks a return to the North’s traditional habits of saber-rattling and attempting to drive a wedge between South Korea and the United States.
Kim Yo Jong seemed to confirm those goals by going on to say that North Korea would be “carefully watching” the first steps taken by America and South Korea under the new administration. After complaining about joint military exercises with South Korea, she threatened to withdraw from a 2018 bilateral agreement to reduce military tensions on the peninsula and to shutter offices tasked with managing relations with the South and organizing tourist visits across the border. In most ways, this looks like someone has decided to push the reset button and return international relations to the pre-Trump era.
Two interesting hints came out of this rare public appearance by North Korea’s leadership. First, it seems that Kim’s sister is back in his good graces and is once again being assigned duties in managing the government. This is a bit of a reversal of the developments we observed last year when Kim Yo Jong appeared to receive a demotion, not even being named as a member of the Politburo. Perhaps whatever perceived slight she was accused of has been forgiven.
The other item of note is a claim from one of the AP’s sources at the White House that Biden has already made multiple efforts at sending messages to Kim Jong-un through third-party channels, most likely in the South Korean government. As of now, however, none of those messages has produced a response. It appears as if the diminutive dictator is simply stonewalling Biden for the time being. If his expectations of concessions from Biden are low, it’s likely that Kim doesn’t want to look too “eager” by reaching out first.
North Korea’s economy is completely in the tank at this point, so we should keep an eye out for more military provocations from Kim as a distraction from his failed policies. Don’t be surprised if we quickly return to a series of nuclear detonations and ICBM tests as North Korea returns to its previous hermit kingdom status.