harrington17_MikhailSvetlovGettyImages_putinjongunshakehands Mikhail Svetlov/Getty Images

Kim Jong-un’s Moneyball Strategy

While in Japan this week, US President Donald Trump once again exposed the rifts within America's alliances, as well as within his own administration, when it comes to the North Korean nuclear issue. By contrast, North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un is quietly building a new united front with China and Russia, much to the detriment of US interests in the region.

ATLANTA – Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe prioritized pomp over policy while hosting US President Donald Trump this week. The one exception was the issue of North Korea, which recently conducted more short-range missile tests off its east coast. Abe is clearly anxious about keeping Japan and the United States on the same page now that Trump’s denuclearization talks with North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un have faltered. But at a joint press conference on Monday, Trump dismissed concerns about the latest tests – breaking not just with Abe, but also with his own advisers.

Abe has every reason to worry that Kim is gaining an important diplomatic edge. To be sure, as the North Korean economy struggles and food shortages loom, Kim’s bromance with Trump has failed to secure an easing of economic sanctions. But he has now reshuffled his negotiating team and tried to strike a statesmanlike pose, offering to hold yet another summit with Trump if the terms are right.

At the same time, Kim has been shoring up his position for further negotiations, not least by reaching out to China and Russia. Such overtures by the North Korean regime certainly are not unprecedented, but they are unusual. As the scion of a dynasty that has jealously guarded the North’s independence for 70 years, Kim, like his grandfather, Kim Il-sung, the state’s founder, regards national self-reliance as sacrosanct. Though China and Russia are the Kim regime’s traditional allies, Kim’s grandfather and father, Kim Jong-il, always kept their distance from the two powers, often playing one off against the other. By contrast, Kim is teaming up with both to tilt the geostrategic field in his favor.

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