Joe Biden's Team Unlikely to Take Hard Line on North Korea, South's Media Says

President-elect Joe Biden's foreign policy team is beginning to take shape, with several official announcements expected this week that will give hints as to the kind of international affairs strategies he will employ.

The biggest job is secretary of state, which multiple news organizations and prominent Biden allies suggested Monday would be going to Obama alumnus Anthony Blinken. The national security adviser role is going to Jake Sullivan, a long-time Biden ally and former senior policy adviser to Hillary Clinton.

Biden has vowed to revive American global leadership he and his allies say has been shredded by four years of President Donald Trump's "America First" unilateralism. But on key issues like China and North Korea, it appears the Biden team is set to retain some elements of Trump's strategies, despite widely criticizing the outgoing president.

South Korean media reacted to news of Biden's foreign policy appointments with articles suggesting that the incoming administration would not take the tough line on North Korea and dictator Kim Jong Un that some had hoped. Nor will the Biden team return to the Obama-era "strategic patience," which banked on sanctions to force Pyongyang to give up its weapons.

The Yonhap News Agency said Blinken would "seek to improve South Korea's relations with Japan as he pushes for multilateral efforts to denuclearize North Korea," citing several experts the agency spoke with.

"While experts here noted the 58-year-old nominee will be open to dialogue with North Korea, he will likely prefer a more silenced and disciplined approach than President Donald Trump in dealing with U.S. allies and adversaries," Yonhap added.

The Korea Times, meanwhile, said in a headline that Biden's team is "unlikely to adopt hardline stance against North Korea."

The newspaper also spoke with several experts who suggested that Biden, Blinken and Sullivan would all favor a combination of cooperation with America's regional allies and some level of dialogue with the North, though less direct contact with Kim than Trump opted for.

North Korea has established itself as a nuclear state over the past 15 years, despite both American and United Nations efforts to stop Pyongyang from getting the bomb.

The Biden and Trump campaigns have both been hesitant to accept this new reality, stressing their continued desire for "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization" before any sanctions can be lifted.

Still, the Trump administration embarked on an unprecedented—and largely unsuccessful—diplomatic outreach to Pyongyang, including multiple in-person meetings between the president and Kim.

"Blinken will place his emphasis on revitalizing U.S. alliances and he won't kowtow to Kim Jong-un as Trump did—or put the U.S. and North Korea on the brink of war as Trump also did in 2017," Sue Mi Terry, a former CIA analyst who currently works for the Center for Strategic and International Studies, told Yonhap.

"I expect he will show an openness for talks with the North, but will expect real deliverables, not just photo ops," Terry told the agency. This includes "a more multilateral approach to North Korea and other problems, trying to get U.S. allies in particular on the same page," she said.

Pacheco Pardo, the KF-VUB Korea Chair at Vrije Universiteit Brussel in Belgium and an associate professor in International Relations at King's College London, told The Korea Times: "There are sufficient signals that the Biden administration is going to pursue negotiations with North Korea as long as Pyongyang doesn't shut down the diplomatic door with ICBM or nuclear tests."

Blinken has suggested that an Iran-style arms control deal might be the best way to contain the North Korean threat.

Pardo told The Korea Times: "This will entail working-level negotiations, policymakers and experts from the U.S., North Korea and others including South Korea reaching an agreement, and looking for a realistic first agreement focusing on arms control that freezes and starts to roll back Pyongyang's nuclear program."

North Korea, South Korea, Biden, Blinken, Sullivan
In this photo taken on October 29, 2020, a North Korean public security officer uses a red flag to stop a taxi for disinfection as part of preventative measures against the COVID-19 coronavirus, on a road at the entrance to Wonsan, Kangwon Province. KIM WON JIN/AFP via Getty Images/Getty