“March madness” is not limited to US basketball courts but can define Pyongyang’s latest diplomatic overtures toward its neighbors. Frenzy basketball fever is accompanied by the unpredictability of the results of the college basketball tournament, which ranks the nation’s top 64 teams. Pyongyang’s diplomatic game is similar: full of surprises and unpredictability. Kim’s diplomatic game started out with his acceptance of a visit to Pyongyang by his South Korean counterpart’s special envoy.
China’s relations with North Korea are complex with a variety of bad choices and suboptimal solutions. It could be argued that the actor that has lost most in the recent tensions is China. It has often been argued that China should do more, above all by U.S. President Trump. However, what are the options and restraints China faces in its relations with North Korea? This short article does not mean to engage in the debate on whether China or the U.S.
After a 36-year hiatus, North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party has opened its 7th Congress in Pyongyang. It follows a “70-day campaign of loyalty” in which everyone was called to work overtime to boost production levels ahead of the Congress. This major political gathering comes as North Korea is facing international condemnations over the last months of military muscle-flexing that have led many outside experts to believe Pyongyang is much closer to having a viable nuclear deterrent than previously thought. Although Beijing is growing frustrated with Pyongyang’s behavior, North Korea won’t be abandoned given its importance as buffer state, shielding China from the U.S. presence in the area. Domestically, the years since Kim took power have moved the country towards increased internal stability and a return to a more “formal” way of running the country, rehabilitating central party institutions and weakening the military’s influence over politics and the economy. The political, economic and personnel changes announced will therefore be closely watched in order to determine how Kim Jong-un’s rule will differ from that of past generations.
The already troubled relations between Seoul and Pyongyang further deteriorated in the first half of 2016, due to a series of dramatic events. The year 2016 began with North Korea’s fourth nuclear test on January 6, which was internationally condemned and led to the adoption of new sanctions against Pyongyang. However, luckily it was not – as Pyongyang claimed - a hydrogen bomb test. One month later, on February 7, Pyongyang launched a long-range missile, claiming that it was putting a satellite into orbit.
The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is famously ill-named. All four words are false. It is no democracy; the people decide nothing. More hereditary monarchy than republic, its culture and institutions owe more to Stalin (who created it) and Mao than to anything Korean.
It has been a couple of very busy months for North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs. One nuclear test in January and a series of missile tests in February, March and April this year have made it impressively clear that Pyongyang was in the business of seeking to become as threatening as possible in the run-up to the Workers’ Party Convention on May 6.
It is very difficult to draw any strategic consideration from the recent escalations in the Korean peninsula. No significant conclusion can be reached through merely analytical means.
North Korea is flexing its muscles, again. The UN imposing further sanctions onto North Korea in a (late) response to its December 2012 missile and February 2013 nuclear tests had the regime in Pyongyang go ballistic leading to angry rhetoric and threats to attack the US and its allies with ballistic and nuclear weapons.