This time last year, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had a warning for the United States: if you don’t start abiding by the June 2018 Singapore statement and begin to work towards a positive transformation in U.S.-DPRK relations, we will have to look elsewhere for our security. And indeed if that point is reached, Washington will have nobody to blame but itself.
In 2020, Kim decided to jettison his customary New Year’s Day speech in favor of a long, detailed statement after a four-day meeting of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party. At the end of the session, the KCNA state news agency released a long summary of Kim’s remarks. From where the United States is sitting, none of it was particularly positive. If there were any doubts about the North Korean leader’s temperament with respect to the 18-month long diplomatic process, those doubts were lifted on January 1.
North Korea watchers are often taught to read beyond the lines for clues about the North’s thinking. But Kim’s remarks during the first day of the new year didn’t require much effort to decipher. The negativity ingrained in his comments at the plenary was as obvious as obvious can be. From the sound of things, the personal relationship between Kim and Donald Trump—the glue that held the bilateral dialogue together—is coming undone. In Kim’s mind, Washington is only looking out for itself; if the Trump administration is interested in maintaining a diplomatic channel with the North, it’s only to string things along so President Trump isn’t saddled with a foreign policy failure during this re-election campaign. In Kim’s version of events, the U.S. is engaging in “double-dealing behavior,” whispering sweet-nothings in Pyongyang’s ear while continuing to sell the most advanced combat aircraft to its rivals in the South.