North Korea’s authorities are in the midst of rewriting their diplomatic strategy following Democratic Party candidate Joe Biden win in this month’s US presidential election, Daily NK has learned. North Korea is reportedly busy building a two-sided strategy embracing both hardline and dovish elements, without eliminating the department in the foreign ministry tasked with negotiations with the Americans.
According to a Daily NK source in Pyongyang on Friday, the Central Committee handed down an order to the foreign ministry pertaining to the outcome of the US presidential election on the morning of Nov. 9.
The order contained two parts: The first part said North Korea’s autonomous diplomatic position would continue as long as the US maintains its policy of hostility toward Pyongyang, regardless of who the president is. The second part stated that while the Supreme Leader’s (North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s) history of overseas trips and hard work will “remain forever,” working-level diplomats should rework their strategy from the ground up.
The first part of the order was simply a rehashing of North Korea’s existing diplomatic stance toward the US; yet, it also suggests Pyongyang aims to prevent discord or unrest within the foreign ministry resulting from the change in the White House.
The source, who spoke on condition of anonymity, explained that the focus of the order – the section calling for reframing the country’s diplomatic strategy from the ground up – means that foreign ministry policymakers will be rewriting Pyongyang’s strategies toward not only the United States, but also South Korea and Japan.
The figure currently in charge of rewriting the country’s “external strategies” is reportedly Choe Son Hui, North Korea’s first vice minister of foreign affairs. Choe was recently punished with a stint of forced labor and ideological education, but she still appears influential. Her case may be similar to that of Choe Ryong Hae, who, after returning from a two-month stint of forced labor in 2015, saw his star rise all the way to first vice chairman of the State Affairs Commission.
Despite the failure of US President Donald Trump to get re-elected, North Korean authorities will apparently keep the foreign ministry department focused on negotiations with the Americans in place. The department was headed by Choe Son Hui.
“The leadership wants to make sure [the country] can [continue to] have working-level negotiations or hold talks between leaders, regardless of who the interlocutor is,” said the source. “Comrade Kim Yo Jong and the Party adhere to the principle that a policy of completely shutting down negotiations should not be used as a means of diplomacy going forward.”
The source’s report also suggests that Kim Yo Jong is playing a critical role in crafting this new “flexible” strategy.
There is speculation emerging that President-elect Biden could pursue working-level “bottom-up” dialogue with North Korea, rather than the “top-down” approach of leader-to-leader talks favored by President Donald Trump.
North Korean authorities seem keen to create a new “framework” regarding specific strategies and negotiation tactics while continuing along the lines of the experience the foreign ministry has in negotiating with the US.
Meanwhile, Foreign Minister Ri Son Gwon will keep his job for now, barring any mistake on his part, according to the source. Given that it is unclear what kind of approach the Biden administration will take toward North Korea, there are still those that argue that the foreign ministry needs a “hardliner” who can push through hardline diplomatic policies if needed.
There is speculation in North Korea, however, that with Pyongyang remaining open to talks with the US, it is likely the authorities will opt for provocations against South Korea – not the US – to promote internal unity.
“North Korea’s basic position is that we could join hands with South Korea or sternly deal with them militarily at any time, depending on what we need,” said the source. “However, given the international situation going forward, [the leadership] believes that South Korea will have little to do.”
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