Joe Biden discusses North Korea threat during debate
However, the hermit state leader may fear provoking the US and South Korea while the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing. Edward Howell, politics lecturer and North Korea specialist at the University of Oxford, believes the situation means Kim’s hands are tied as he considers his post-US election tactics.
It is a tricky time for the Supreme Leader, who heads a nation with a traditional approach: provoke, await the result, provoke again.
But any plan to denuclearize Kim could be a long shot, Mr Howell has said, while contemplating whether Biden could return to Obama’s ‘strategic patience’ tactic.
Frank Januzzi, a former Biden adviser, believes the incoming president should reach out at the earliest opportunity, so “feelings of uncertainty in Pyongyang” do not fester.
Biden called Kim a “thug” during the election campaign and said the “days of cosying up to dictators are over”, while North Korea called Biden a “rabid dog” that needed to be “beaten to death with a stick”.
But heading into 2021, North Korea is facing some unique difficulties.
The coronavirus has devastated its economy, affecting considerable links with neighbouring China which supplies 90 percent of its trade.
Figures for October place trade with China at £1.5m – a 99 percent drop from the same month last year.
It means launching provocative missiles is perhaps not the most effective strategy because it may need to make up for it by relying on imports from elsewhere.
Mr Howell told North Korea “has no intention of getting rid of its nuclear weapons and any US policy that has that as the first issue is going to go nowhere.”
He said: “Historically, we see North Korea provokes in an election year then they tend to wait and, when the results are announced, provoke again.
“We may see this or may not because of the impact of coronavirus on North Korea’s economy.
“It was one of the first to shut borders in the world, closing off its border with China, a country that accounts for 90 percent of the DPRK’s trade.
“If North Korea cannot rely on economic assistance from China it is going to have to rely on South Korea to provide it.
“Provocations in the form of rhetorical threats and launching intercontinental ballistic missiles are not going to help North Korea out.”
The academic said Biden will not be willing to meet Kim on a “presidential level”, and warns a return to Obama’s strategic patience tactic could leave North Korea feeling “neglected”.
He added: “Kim has a South Korea leader who wants to engage on a humanitarian level and a US president who wants to impose sanctions but isn’t going to behave in a bombastic manner like Trump.
“Obama’s strategic patience was seen as not a very positive policy. North Korea viewed it as the US neglecting it.
“But not putting sanctions on and waiting for North Korea to dismantle is a non-starter and is not going to happen.
“Simply continuing with sanctions on North Korea and waiting for them to give up unilaterally is not going to happen.
“North Korea is a master of sanction invasion.
“The US saying you denuke first and then will provide benefits later is not viable because North Korea won’t abandon.”
Mr Jannuzi, head of the Mansfield Foundation, was an Asia adviser to Biden when the president-elect was the head of the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
As reported by , he said China must be “integrated” into Biden’s approach to North Korea because the superpower “can undermine anything we’re trying to accomplish if they’re not involved”.
Kim Jong-un’s first nuclear test was in February 2013 – a few weeks after Barack Obama was sworn in for his second term as US president and two weeks before Park Geun-hye became president of South Korea.
This was followed by a number of short-range missile tests in May that year.
In April 2017, just after Trump took office as US president, Kim test fired medium-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan from its eastern port of Sinpo.
This was a month before South Korean president Moon Jae-in assumed office, and prompted an aggressive response from Trump, who said: “There is a chance that we could end up having a major, major conflict with North Korea.”
On September 3, 2017, North Korea carried out its largest nuclear test to date, at its Punggye-ri test site, which was estimated to be at least six times more powerful than the bomb dropped on Hiroshima in 1945.
North Korea claimed this test was its first thermonuclear weapon – the most powerful kind of nuclear explosion where a secondary fusion process creates a far bigger blast.