Kim Jong-un in Hanoi. Photo: Manan Vatsyayana/AFP via Getty
Why it matters: North Korea is wiping out all remnants of the detente with South Korea that began in 2018, and taking dramatic symbolic steps to signal a new more hostile era in relations. Pyongyang has also said it will resume military exercises and reestablish guard posts near the heavily fortified border.
Behind the scenes: Experts generally view this as a play for leverage from Kim Jong-un’s regime, which has expressed fury over America's unwillingness to loosen sanctions and is believed to be facing a severe economic downturn amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
- North Korea has also expressed outrage over propaganda leaflets sent across the border from the South.
- Kim Yo-jong, the sister of Kim Jong-un, has been taking a central role in the rhetorical offensive from Pyongyang.
What to watch: Nuclear talks are likely to remain on ice this year, with an election approaching in the U.S.
- The Kim regime’s goals include weakening the U.S.-South Korea alliance and reminding Washington “that North Korea is still a force to be reckoned with,” said Glyn Davies, who served as a special representative for North Korea during the Obama administration, in a recent International Crisis Group webinar.
- U.S. intelligence says North Korea has continued to develop its nuclear program since President Trump’s two summits with Kim, which did not yield a deal on denuclearization.
Flashback: South Korean President Moon Jae-in, an advocate of warmer ties with North Korea, also held a series of summits with Kim in 2018.
- Just two years later, one symbol of the friendlier relations those three meetings seemed to signal has been exploded. Others are now being actively militarized.
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