Meeting in Singapore last month, US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un captured the world’s attention and promised to work towards “new relations”. So, why has there been a lack of clear progress?
North Korea’s notoriety and ability to capture global headlines may have led to its power being overestimated. It appears Pyongyang has sought to disguise a position of relative weakness as one of unqualified strength. It framed the summit as one between equal nuclear powers. In fact, North Korea is a misfit power. Despite its new-found confidence as a nuclear-armed country, it remains a weak state preoccupied by its very survival.
North Korea’s economy, when local prices are taken into account, is roughly the same size as that of Laos, one of the poorest countries in south-east Asia, which has just a quarter of the population. The productivity of North Korea’s workers is the lowest in Asia and it suffers from an unusually low share of natural resources.
By drawing the US president into talks – and partially normalizing ties – Kim Jong Un appears to have played a weak hand well. And he not agree to a timeframe for denuclearization.