North Korea, Kim Jong-un Reportedly Making Big Promises

Kim Jong-un, Chung Eui-yong

Big, if true, news coming from north of the 38th Parallel:
Yonhap News Agency

“From April 21, North Korea will stop nuclear tests and launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles,” the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said, citing the outcome of a key meeting of the ruling party held Friday.
“The North will shut down a nuclear test site in the country’s northern area to guarantee transparency in suspending nuclear tests,” it added.

North Korea has conducted all of its six nuclear tests at the Punggye-ri test site in the northeastern province since 2006. The North’s latest and most powerful nuclear test was conducted in September last year.

The decision was made at the plenary meeting of the central committee of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea (WPK), which drew keen attention over whether the North would possibly unveil a shift in stance toward its nuclear programs.

Former CIA North Korea analyst Sue Mi Terry tells CNN’s Anderson Cooper to be leary:

Which may fit the reporting from Yonhap:

At the meeting, the North hinted at a new policy line to focus on bolstering the fragile economy, in a departure from Kim Jong-un’s signature “byongjin” policy of seeking both nuclear and economic development, which was adopted at the WPK’s meeting held in March 2013.

Kim said that it will focus on boosting its economy, which has been crippled by tougher international sanctions over its nuclear and missile provocations.

While undoubtably true, the near starvation and economic long-suffering of the North Korean people has not been a priority before.
Sangwon Yoon urges caution:

A good write up on the difference between have nuclear capability and weaponizing it, can be found here, in which the BBC also reminds us that DPRK promised to not pursue nuclear in 2005, 2009, and 2012 and most of the preceding 20+years.

Meanwhile, with this news coming after the reveal that then-DCI Mike Pompeo met with Kim Jong-un President Trump was celebratory:

There is a lot going on here. Previous hints at Pyongyang softening their stance had come through South Korea, but clearly both DPRK and US officials are at the point they feel comfortable openly posturing for forthcoming summits. De-escalation is a welcomed thing, but suddenly getting all you desire from a long-term foe should be accepted cautiously. The cynic will wonder what Kim and the DPRK was promised to bring about this change of attitude. Many Korean experts and media are leaning towards Kim, having achieved his goal for nuclear weapons, is now pivoting while the Western leaders and media seems to be focusing on the diplomatic possibilities of an agreement.
What say you?


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Born and raised in West Virginia, Andrew has since lived and traveled around the world several times over. Though frequently writing about politics out of a sense of duty and love of country, most of the time he would prefer discussions on history, culture, occasionally nerding on aviation, and his amateur foodie tendencies. He can usually be found misspelling/misusing words on Twitter @four4thefire.

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19 thoughts on “North Korea, Kim Jong-un Reportedly Making Big Promises

  1. The rubber will meet the road when we see what NK wants and if SK is fine with it. So far all we have heard is positve PR spin. That is a good start but not any of the actual hard stuff. I’m assuming the hope of an agreement with NK is the only thing truly preventing Trump from ditching the Iran nuke agreement. At least we can assume if something good is negotiated the R’s won’t try to sabotage it….so we got that going for us.

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    • Speaking only for myself here, I try to differentiate the politics here in the US with the international part, though they overlap. DPRK has broken promises with Clinton, Bush, and Obama with various congressional makeups. Their agenda runs despite our current political makeup. I am ever hopeful, but skeptical that things have changed that drastically that quickly. It may be as simple as they have, to their satisfaction, the level of weapon development from their nuclear program and are content that gets them their seat at the big kids table. Or maybe the non-existent economy finally forced action. Or China finally reigned in their neighbor. There is much here, so we will see. Trust but verify.

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        • Agree with you. One thing that has me questioning, and it has been this way for a few weeks before this, is South Korea was disseminating all this positive stuff about the North. We now know that the US was working behind the scenes at that time, but it was very odd the sudden shift. Too much to just block quote but the political and commentary folks seem to be way out in front with hope while the actual analyst, the experts if there can be on the Hermit Kingdom, seem much more unconvinced.

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          • I wonder how much of the ROK posture right now is because of that government’s change last year, with the ‘hard-line’ party getting shellacked after their crazy pants cult and bribery scandal plus follow-on impeachment.

            (I just discovered a few weeks ago that to refer to this scandal, they seem to use the term -gate i.e. a hangul transliteration of the word gate, which is a heck of a use of a loan word)

            (you can tell it’s a real scandal because they didn’t borrow -ghazi)

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  2. I’ll believe it when I see it.

    That said, when North Korea dropped the whole withdrawal of the US from South Korea thing from their list of demands? That made me say “hey, this game of chicken has gone longer than other games of chicken without us blinking.”

    But, again, I’ll believe it when I see it.

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    • Its a good point. I suspect their dropping US withdrawl would lean more towards them having, or at least thinking they have, weaponized their nuke to the point of being a deterrent from any aggression from the south. I’m like you, maybe they are just being uber-benevolent, but I doubt it.

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  3. I’m very far from even pretending to be an expert on this, so with that in mind…..

    Maybe North Korea is responding to initiatives from other actors, like China or Russia, or South Korea and Japan? Maybe what it’s doing now has little to do with the US and the US is just responding to something that’s been in the works for a while.

    Maybe there’s been something like a coup in North Korea, so that Kim is still nominally the head of state but someone else, perhaps someone with a saner policy vision, is in charge.

    Maybe North Korea has done all it can when it comes to its nuclear program that it’s just declaring victory and claiming to focus on “economic development.”

    Maybe some of the above. Maybe all of the above. Maybe none of the above.

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  4. My own amateur read: North Korea has what they want generally and they’re pivoting to conciliation now. The neocon line on NK trying to invade South Korea has always been pretty goofy. Conventionally SK enormously outweighs NK in terms of conventional forces. The only thing that’s ever held them at parity is NK possessing the capacity to reduce Seoul to rubble in the opening stages of the conflict.
    Clinton, Bush, and Obama were all trying to prevent either nuclear weapons or long range nuclear weapons. NK basically either has them or is close enough to having them for the ambiguity to make it functionally the same.

    I assume NK will offer to freeze their testing and generally stop advancing in exchange for an end to the war, direct talks and whatever other economic num nums they can extort. I also assume they’ll never actually give up the weapons and unless Trump entirely loses his mind, no one will go the distance that would be necessary to force them to do so. The weapons are primarily face saving at this point along with an iron clad guarantee that the US et all will never invade. Optimistically maybe at this point with their security basically assured NK will pivot to other less vile activities. Of course the worst case scenario is they either sell the weapons (highly unlikely, if a NK nuke is blown up anywhere NK will be blamed for it no matter who actually sets it off and they certainly know that) or they try and start shenanigans with SK (again unlikely, NK already had the power to level Seol, nuclear weapons don’t change that).

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    • I think you are probably right on most of that. I wonder and worry that we, meaning the US, have already promised them something significant to get this amount of public backtracking from them, even though it’s mostly rhetoric that they can mostly ignore later on. Statements like “suspending nuclear testing” sound great but is meaningless if they have the weaponized warhead. We haven’t tested a Nuke in some times, but no one doubts us having it. It’s words to elicit one response, while conveying another meaning entirely.

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      • Yeah i think there is a lot of reading heavily into a promise to stop testing. If they have what they want from testing them a temporary halt is giving up nothing to get solid PR. There doesn’t seem to be anyway they give up their nukes and also allow us to have inspectors on the ground to make sure they don’t develop nukes again and that they have truly shut down their program. They are going to want serious money or econ help i imagine. It is notable what they want hasn’t leaked although they have certainly talked about it.

        I read someplace else that NK may be okay with our troops their since it keeps the Chinese on edge. The Chinese do not like our troops there. If our troops go takes away a threat and pressure which the NK’s can use a bargaining chip with the Chinese. The less we are there the more the Chinese can do what they want. Not completely sure about but it makes sense that a small power doesn’t want one large imperialist power to have a free hand. It’s better to have two competing powers for them to try to play off.

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  5. At the meeting, the North hinted at a new policy line to focus on bolstering the fragile economy, in a departure from Kim Jong-un’s signature “byongjin” policy of seeking both nuclear and economic development, which was adopted at the WPK’s meeting held in March 2013.

    I’ve haven’t been regularly reading about this stuff for a while. This “byongjin” policy was a change from the previous “military-first” policy, right? So now, with an ‘economy-first’ policy, they’re (apparently) doing a complete 180 from when Kim 2 was in charge- correct?

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    • From my understanding it, the term literally means “parallel policy” of economics and nuclear weapons. That was a departure from military first, but not an inconsistent one. It was a 5-year economic plan, as socialist dictators are so found of. Thus the rationalization that if DPRK is satisfied in its nukes it will focus on the economics.

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