Outlook 2021: Korean Peninsula Tensions



After a détente of sorts in recent years, inter-Korean relations took a turn for the worse in 2020. Tensions reached their height in June, when North Korea blew up a joint liaison office with the South in the border town of Kaesong, after being angered by defectors sending messages across the border via helium-filled balloons. The practice had earlier prompted Pyongyang to cut all communication with South Korea, amid rumors over the health of Kim Jong-un and increasingly aggravated rhetoric from his sister, Kim Yo-jong.

Donald Trump’s election loss in November is surely a cause of further annoyance to the ruling Kim family, despite talks with the US having soured long before. President Trump’s personal diplomacy afforded North Korea an opportunity to project equivalency with its superpower foe and claim a measure of legitimacy on the world stage. In 2021, with Joe Biden entering the Oval Office, the US may opt to return to the ‘‘strategic patience’’ of the Obama administration. As tensions resurface, what does the year ahead hold for the Korean Peninsula?


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