People watch a television news broadcast showing a file picture of a North Korean missile test at a train station in Seoul on March 21, 2020.
Jung Yeon-je | AFP | Getty Images
SINGAPORE – North Korea could launch missiles to send a “strong message” to President-elect Joe Biden and ensure Pyongyang remains a foreign policy priority in Washington, analysts told CNBC.
NBC News on Saturday predicted that Biden would win the US presidential election four days after election day. President Donald Trump has denied and filed several lawsuits in swing states, amid unsubstantiated allegations of electoral fraud and illegal voting.
Experts said Biden’s priority will be addressing the coronavirus crisis and worries about the US economy, but North Korea can test weapons to increase its presence.
“In the coming weeks, North Korea may conduct a nuclear or long-range ballistic missile test to send a strong message to the new president,” said Evans Revere, a non-resident senior fellow at the Brookings Institution.
“While Biden would like other issues, including domestic concerns, to be high on his priority list, Pyongyang can force the United States to pay attention to North Korea.”
Waqas Adenwala, Asia analyst at The Economist Intelligence Unit, agreed.
“North Korea is often trying to stay relevant by conducting various missile tests and this will ensure that the issue remains a major foreign policy priority,” he said.
The withdrawn regime launched rockets early on in both the Obama and Trump administrations. Washington-Pyongyang relations have seen ups and downs over the past four years.
President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un exchanged threats and provocations in 2017, but then met twice in bilateral meetings in 2018 and 2019 to discuss denuclearization and ease tensions. The US offered possible easing of the sanctions the US has imposed on Pyongyang since 2006, but the talks did not make much progress.
Egyptian billionaire Naguib Sawiris, whose company holds a telecommunications license in North Korea, told CNBC’s Hadley Gamble that Biden should continue Trump’s policy of connecting with Pyongyang.
“I work in North Korea and I know the mentality. The threats and the bullying and so on, it won’t work with them,” he said. “What will work with them is that we reach out to them and test their sincerity of peace.”
“It is not in our best interests as a free world for China to dominate this part of the world and take North Korea on its side,” he added.
President-elect Joe Biden waves to supporters as he leaves the Queen Theater after receiving a briefing from the Covid-19 Transition Advisory Board on November 9, 2020 in Wilmington, Delaware.
Joe Raedle | Getty Images News | Getty Images
Sharon Squassoni of George Washington University said Biden will take a principled approach to North Korea that supports “longstanding US security and non-proliferation goals.”
The research professor at the GWU’s Elliott School of International Affairs added that North Korea was a “top foreign policy goal for Biden” from the start, even if Kim didn’t provoke the US with more missile tests.
She said Biden knew “benevolent neglect” will not work with North Korea and will try to address it.
“It may diplomatically be quieter than anything Trump has ever done, but I think it will be a priority,” Squassoni said.
South Korea and Japan
Experts also considered what a Biden presidency would mean for other North Asian countries. Leaders from Japan and South Korea have congratulated Biden and said they want to work on their alliances with the US.
Under Trump, the US considered reducing its military presence in South Korea, signaling that after a cost-sharing agreement expires in 2019, South Korea should pay more for troops stationed in the country.
“It is natural for any US government to urge Seoul to pay more to cover the cost of deploying US forces in Korea,” Revere said, noting that South Korea has already agreed to increase its contributions . “The Trump administration, however, rejected this generous increase and asked for more.”
Revere also said the demands made are widely viewed as “exaggerated, unfair and unsupported by the facts” and that Trump failed to realize that the military presence in South Korea – intended to deter North Korea – will also benefit the US.
“I have no doubt that the Biden administration will recognize this and reach a quick, sensible deal with our South Korean allies,” he said.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said Biden will demand “more modest increases” in military cost-sharing without threatening the withdrawal of American troops.
However, he said a Biden government is sensitive to international burden sharing as it is fighting the pandemic at home. “Seoul should therefore avoid giving the impression that its alliance policy is,” Please protect us while we make peace with Pyongyang and make money with Beijing, “said Easley.
Japanese flag in Tokyo ahead of US President Donald Trump’s visit to Japan in November 2017.
Artur Widak | NurPhoto | Getty Images
According to Adenwala from the EIU, relations in Japan should continue to strengthen.
That’s because Biden will not pursue a “volatile and mercantilist policy” with his allies, he said.
Biden and Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga do not share the same personal relationship as Trump and former Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, but they will likely work together on “mutual interests such as trade and particularly on security issues, particularly in the EU, and face increasingly assertive policies from China, “said Adenwala.
Brookings’ Revere said there had been “considerable discomfort” in Japan over Trump’s approach to North Korea. He added that Biden will be administering North Korea and the burden-sharing negotiations well and “restore confidence in the United States’ handling of bilateral defense and security relations.”