Can North Korea keep playing off its two large neighbors?

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Journal article

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Global Asia

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The East Asia Foundation


2016 literally started with a bang on the Korean Peninsula as North Korea detonated an underground nuclear device on Jan. 6. While outside experts dispute Pyongyang’s claim that it tested a hydrogen bomb, the action nevertheless raised tensions on the peninsula and led to further censure by the United Nations Security Council.

Significantly for North Korea, both of its two large neighbors China and Russia responded in a critical manner, both supporting tough UN sanctions. At a time when North Korea seemed to be rebuilding relations with its ally, China, and boosting relations with Russia, the test raised questions about the diplomatic strategy of leader Kim Jong Un.

Foreign observers have frequently commented on Kim’s efforts to present a different style of governing — not least in his public persona — from his father Kim Jong Il. As part of this process he seems to be modelling himself on his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, partly in aspects of his physical appearance, but also in his policymaking. His byungjin line, announced in 2013, of focusing equally on economic reconstruction and nuclear weapons development, certainly carries echoes of Kim Il Sung’s much earlier dual line of economic and defense build-up.

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Chan, C.-P. & Bridges B. (2016). Can North Korea keep playing off its two large neighbors? Global Asia, 11(1), 76-82. Retrieved from https://www.globalasia.org/bbs/board.php?bo_table=articles&wr_id=9088