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What effect will pandemic have on tensions with North Korea?

Breakthrough or Crisis? How Will Coronavirus Impact Tensions with North Korea?

Is a breakthrough possible?: “As it continues to call on Pyongyang to resume negotiations, Washington could consider gathering support for an interim agreement from Seoul, Tokyo, Beijing, and Moscow. If successful, perhaps North Korea will feel pressured to return to dialogue or risk being blamed for breaking the diplomatic process. If a deal cannot be reached before November, the elements of such an interim agreement could be the starting point of discussions with the US administration after the elections.”  National Interest, by Duyeon Kim, 22 Mar 20  The novel coronavirus pandemic has accelerated geopolitical tensions first in Northeast Asia, with the original outbreak in China, and now around the world as the United States, Europe and many others battle their own epidemics and global markets spiral downward. Leaders among the big powers—particularly the US, China, and Russia—already trying to exploit this global crisis to gain advantage and exert power instead of coming together to fight a common threat. This climate adds another layer of uncertainty over the Korean Peninsula where an authoritarian leader is trying to exert his power at a time when every world leader is preoccupied with the viral disease that is simultaneously testing their leadership and competence.

The pandemic in the context of intensified US-China competition — have complicated an already challenging diplomatic and security situation on the Korean Peninsula this year. Prospects for diplomacy on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program are now even poorer as key capitals will be in coronavirus crisis management mode for the next several months, as they should, and consumed with geopolitics and geo-economics. Dealing with traditional long-standing security issues regarding the Korean Peninsula, including nuclear diplomacy, will be put on hold at least until key stakeholders–the US, South Korea, China, and Japan–are able to manage the current pandemic with more ease.
The virus has worsened existing geopolitical rifts among Northeast Asian countries, which will also overshadow or interrupt attention to the North Korean nuclear issue. The virus is also exacerbating domestic political battles in South Korea, the US, and Japan that will further consume leaders’ attention. These strains will make policy coordination and consultation even more difficult among key countries, let alone face-to-face meetings because of viral infection and transmission concerns.
This environment, if mismanaged, is ripe for a potential security crisis. While China, South Korea, Japan, and the US scramble to contain the disease, North Korea has reminded the world that it will continue to pursue its strategic plans for 2020–despite even a deadly outbreak that has put its own population’s health at risk. On March 2, 8, and 21, Pyongyang fired several rounds of projectiles that US officials say appeared to be short-range ballistic missiles and conducted what North Korea called artillery strike drills using a multiple-rocket launch system. It is not yet clear whether these were tests of any components of a “new strategic weapon” that Pyongyang warned last December it would unveil this year.
The tests nevertheless suggest North Korea had both military and political objectives. It is commonly believed that Pyongyang’s primary driver for its testing schedule is its calculation of what timing will achieve the greatest political impact vis-à-vis the US, but often times, it chooses dates based simply on when it is technologically ready to try out its capability. The latter may have been the case for the recent tests……..

March 23, 2020 - Posted by | North Korea, politics international

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