Kim Jong Un Dumps Trump
North Korea announced on Friday that there was little reason to "maintain personal relationships between our senior leadership," in other words Kim Jong Un, and "the US President."
Secretary of State Ri Son Gwon's statement on the second anniversary of the historic Trump-Kim summit in Singapore came immediately after the North threatened the US with "terrible" things and hinted that this would disrupt the November elections.
At the same time, Pyongyang launched a rhetorical barrage against the friendly South Korean government of President Moon Jae-in and cut off communication with Seoul.
After months of rest, Kim Jong Un starts a new round of provocations. Why?
Brendan Smialowski / Getty
One explanation is that Kim is concerned that the Trump administration, which has not enforced sanctions for more than two years, has signaled that it will increase the pressure. At the end of last month, the US Department of Justice received charges against 28 North Koreans and five Chinese for money laundering in China, Russia, Libya and Thailand.
Kim Jong Un is MIA. His sister is on the attack.
As Bruce Bechtol of Angelo State University in Texas told The Daily Beast, these allegations have had little impact on the extensive smuggling operations in Pyongyang, but the next step, severe fines or sanctions against the accused, could go deep into the illegal money of the Northern penetration -making activities. Bechtol, the youngest author of North Korean military proliferation in the Middle East and Africa, says these foreign activities are extensive and critical to funding the Kim family's rule.
In any case, sanction relief is particularly important now that the coronavirus has almost certainly forced the North Korean economy into a deep contraction, as was the case in neighboring China.
The disease came at a particularly bad time because Kim is particularly vulnerable to a downturn. Expectations are rising rapidly in the north.
Kim Jong Un has repeatedly promised prosperity and people expect him to deliver, especially after his three high-profile meetings with President Trump and four with Moon Jae-in. However, prosperity depends to a large extent on lifting the US and US trade and investment barriers. "The biggest failure for Kim Jong Un is that the sanctions have not been lifted," said David Maxwell of the Democratic Defense Foundation.
Kim had enjoyed a free ride for two years. The North Korean despot quickly developed nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles and did not suffer from new sanctions pressure.
Trump made sunny statements at the time that the North was not a "nuclear threat" to America due to his personal relationship with Kim. Kim maintained the illusion by sending so-called "beautiful letters" to the White House.
According to Maxwell, who completed five missions in South Korea with the U.S. Army to The Daily Beast, the Secretary of State's explosion shows that the regime "no longer appreciates President Trump's unconventional, experimental, top-down, pen-pal diplomacy."
American Trump-style diplomacy was not effective in getting the North Koreans to give up their dangerous weapons - Washington's stated goal - but the US leader still annoyed a regime that always needs an external enemy.
If Pyongyang's actions have had a common theme in the past few days, the intent was to create “enemies”. On Saturday, Kim Yo Jong, the increasingly powerful sister of the North Korean colonel, threatened with military action against Seoul and described the south as an "enemy" as on Tuesday. This word is striking because, since taking office in 2017, Moon has been promoting policies that are extremely friendly to the Kim regime.
Paradoxically, Pyongyang seems most comfortable with persistent “conservative” governments in the south. The Kim regime, on the other hand, had problems with the two openly friendly "progressives" Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo-hyun.
Pyongyang feared Kim's "sunshine" and Roh's "peace and prosperity" policy as fundamentally threatening. As North Korean observer Selig Harrison once remarked, in North Korea's eyes these strategies were still seen as attempts at subversion, but were "more dangerous" because they were "more subtle".
Similarly, Kim Jong Un Trump was likely seen as a lethal threat, especially when the American president showed him in Singapore the four-minute video that Washington wanted for the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, as the North calls itself, in Washington. Three generations of the Kim family have ruled their miserable condition by keeping people poor and therefore unable to outrage them.
The Secretary of State's statement, which vilified personal relations with Trump, was made by a relatively low-ranking official who gave more senior figures room to go back. Kim likely believes Trump's re-election must give him what he wants to avoid a breakdown in relationships.
This could exaggerate what Kim did in Hanoi last February when he tried what Maxwell calls North Korea's "long fraud" and received almost complete sanction relief because he had given up little on his weapons program.
Fortunately for the North Korean leader, the Trump administration is ready to speak to him at any time, as the State Department suggested in comments to the Yonhap news agency on Thursday. Unfortunately for Kim, however, Trump was not inclined to make basic concessions, which is particularly evident in the failed Hanoi talks.
Kim can still try to intimidate Trump - "orchestrated anger" is what Donald Kirk calls it - but if he fails, he has broken connections with the only power that can give him what he needs.
Kim probably notices that he is embarrassed. He needs both foreign enemies and foreign money to survive the regime. Receiving one gives the opportunity to receive the other.
As a result, Kim is at high risk of breaking personal ties with the American leader, and it is not clear whether the North Korean currently has high cards.
Read more at The Daily Beast.
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