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[Editorial] Prolonged silence

North Korea seems troubled with how to cope with the incoming US administration

North Korea has kept silent on the outcome of the US presidential election on Nov. 3 in an apparent indication that it is at a loss how to deal with the incoming Joe Biden administration.

In previous US presidential votes, it usually took a couple of days for the North to mention or issue a statement on the results.

Apparently, Pyongyang wanted to see the reelection of President Donald Trump, who has boasted of his friendly relations with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. Trump and Kim have tried to project their personal ties as amicable, though the three meetings between them in 2018 and 2019 did little to work out a deal on denuclearizing the North. Pyongyang’s uncommonly long silence may be partly due to caution about giving an official response to the election results while Trump has yet to concede defeat.

The North has been antagonistic toward Biden, with its state-run media deriding him as a “fool of low IQ” and an “imbecile bereft of elementary quality as a human being.”

During a presidential debate with Trump, Biden said he would not meet with Kim without substantial progress in denuclearizing the North, calling him a “thug.”

The Biden administration is expected to focus on working-level negotiations with Pyongyang on dismantling the recalcitrant regime’s nuclear arsenal.

Biden’s emphasis on conventional “principled” diplomacy in contrast with his predecessor’s top-down manner is prompting speculation that he will return to the approach of strategic patience taken by former US President Barack Obama’s administration, in which he served as vice president.

Some observers raise the possibility that the Biden team will depart from the strategy -- if it can be called one -- of waiting for the North to come back to the negotiating table while tightening sanctions against the isolated state. They note it may have to be taken into account that Pyongyang’s nuclear capabilities have significantly advanced since Obama began his first four-year term in 2009.

President Moon Jae-in’s administration, preoccupied with inter-Korean reconciliation, appears to be hoping that the Biden administration will move in that direction. Since Moon took office in May 2017, his government has adhered to its peace agenda for the peninsula, inviting the criticism that it is lukewarm to the fundamental resolution of the North Korean nuclear issue.

It should be noted that, despite changes of power, Washington has remained staunch and will do so in applying pressure on Pyongyang until it achieves the complete and irrevocable denuclearization of the North. Even Trump walked out of his second summit with Kim in Hanoi in February 2019, rejecting Kim’s demand that the US lift most sanctions in return for a partial scrapping of the North’s nuclear arms development program.

In its latest endeavor to show a firm stance, the US Department of the Treasury added two companies involved in the exportation of “forced labor from North Korea” to its list of entities subject to sanctions imposed on the totalitarian state for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile tests.

Moon and his aides now need to discard their wishful thinking on inter-Korean ties and prepare to be in step with the Biden administration to achieve the North’s denuclearization, which is a prerequisite for lasting peace on the peninsula.

It will not help for the Moon administration to continue to pander to Pyongyang in an effort to draw it back to inter-Korean talks.

It has remained inactive, with Pyongyang having rejected its call for a joint inquiry into the killing of a South Korean fisheries official by North Korean troops near the western maritime border in September.

Seoul failed to co-sponsor a resolution recently adopted by a UN committee, which calls for improved human rights conditions in the North.

South Korean Unification Minister Lee In-young said last week that he would make a formal offer to hold talks with North Korea once the coronavirus pandemic wanes. He went on to say the South should share COVID-19 vaccines with the North, sparking criticism of being excessively eager to improve inter-Korean ties as the South has yet to secure vaccines for its own people.

A day after he made the remarks, the Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of North Korea’s ruling Workers’ Party, said the communist state would not accept any outside assistance.

The North might resort to its previous tactic of making provocations shortly before or after a new US administration assumes office. Seoul should take Pyongyang’s possible return to a provocative mode as an occasion to strengthen cooperation with the Biden administration on denuclearizing the North, not to call for it to follow the steps taken by Trump.