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What Biden presidency means for North Korea

What Biden presidency means for North Korea
North Korea has still not reacted to the United States' presidential election. Its silence speaks volumes.
According to analysts, it's highly unlikely that President-elect Joe Biden would have been North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's preferred candidate.
President Donald Trump has been unique among American leaders for his willingness to personally engage with Kim, providing him with a sense of legitimacy on the world stage, even though those efforts have since stalled.
"I do think North Korea would be disappointed that Trump didn't win," Ambassador Joseph Yun, a former US special representative for North Korea policy under both Presidents Obama and Trump, said.
President-elect Joe Biden has been brutal in his description of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un. (AP)
"For them, Trump was a big deal, they had three summit meetings, unprecedented meetings."
The highly unusual relationship was underscored by the countless missives, described by Mr Trump as "love letters," that the two men exchanged during Mr Trump's four years in office.
Mr Biden, on the other hand, has been brutal in his criticism of Mr Trump's engagement with Mr Kim, which according to the president-elect weakened US sanctions.
Mr Biden called Mr Kim a "thug" during the last presidential debate and has been highly critical of North Korea throughout the entirety of this year's presidential campaign.
It's unclear what comes next for Mr Biden. He has outlined his priorities on entering the White House and North Korea does not feature, nor is a meeting likely any time soon. Unlike Trump, Mr Biden has made it clear he would be unwilling to sit down with Kim without preconditions.
But precedent suggests North Korea has a tendency to stage some kind of provocation in the early stages of a new US administration. Pyongyang fired a missile just weeks after President Trump was inaugurated in 2017, setting the tone for a volatile and tense year. Experts are split as to whether North Korea will feel the need to do the same for Biden.
This file image made from video broadcasted by North Korea's KRT, shows a recent military parade with what appears to be possible new intercontinental ballistic missile at the Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang. (AP)
"The North Koreans often telegraph what they're going to do," John Delury, an associate professor at Seoul's Yonsei University said.
"If you listen carefully to their statements they usually indicate where they are heading, and I would say there's been almost no signals that they're planning a major provocation or test."
As Mr Yun points out, these are different times for Mr Kim - and a missile test might not be as high on his agenda as it was four years ago.
"They now have proven that they have a viable ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) that can reach almost anywhere in the continental US, they also have a very big nuclear device which they tested in 2017," Mr Yun said.
North Korea also has a number of its own pressing issues to contend with. The coronavirus, which Mr Kim claims has yet to infect any of his people, a struggling economy as sanctions continue to pinch, and recovery from a string of typhoons and flooding earlier this year.
Mr Biden knows the challenges likely posed by North Korea. Pyongyang conducted both a nuclear and a long-range missile test in the opening months of Mr Obama's presidency, under which Mr Biden served as vice president.
However, he is not necessarily expected to revert back to the Obama-era policy of "strategic patience" of waiting for Pyongyang to come to the negotiating table while keeping sanctions in place.
That policy failed to achieve its main objectives. during that time, North Korea significantly expanded its nuclear and missile capability and carried out four of its six nuclear tests. Mr Yun said that Mr Biden has shown he "wants a diplomatic solution, he wants an engagement."
"Sure, he has emphasised denuclearisation, but at the same time he has emphasised what he called principled diplomacy so I would hope that the engagement door would be more open now," he said.
Mr Trump and Mr Kim exchanged letters in 2018 after a summit in Singapore to discuss the nuclear issue. (AP)
However, a provocation from Pyongyang - especially a missile test - could dramatically change the calculus for a Biden administration.
Evans Revere, senior director with the Albright Stonebridge Group, has extensive experience negotiating with North Korea during his time at the State Department. He believes Mr Biden would react strongly to any provocation from North Korea.
A response will most likely include the immediate resumption of large-scale US-South Korea military exercises, new military deployments to Korea and the surrounding area and a major effort to impose new sanctions and strengthen existing measures, said Revere.
"As well as to take new steps designed to isolate, weaken and pressure the North Korean regime," he added.
It is not clear at this time what pressure China, North Korea's main trading partner and ally, would exert to prevent a resumption of testing.
President-elect Joe Biden has been a vocal critic of North Korea leader Kim Jong Un. (AP)
It's also not clear how a US-China relationship, currently at its lowest point in years, would progress.
Mr Trump's personal style may have led to three history-making summits with Mr Kim, but nuclear talks between the two countries have been stuck in neutral for months.
Diplomacy with North Korea will likely be much more process oriented, Mr Delury of Yonsei University said.
"Under Trump what we've seen is a personalistic style which is almost unprecedented," he said.
"A Biden administration is going to be an administration, there's going to be a coherence to it."