North Korea in 2021: Pyongyang's double game

Sukhee Han, Dongchan Kim

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Continuing the trendline of 2020, North Korea's key priorities in 2021 were to tighten its belt economically and control the COVID-19 pandemic. Those two goals were related. With its healthcare system no match for such a public health crisis, the government continued its utmost effort to prevent a COVID-19 disaster through the near-complete closure of its borders, severely hampering vital trade with China. As seen in the 8th Congress of the Workers' Party of North Korea, however, chairman Kim Jong-un also prioritized maintaining an assertive stance toward the United States, even to the point of abjuring negotiations with Washington that might have unlocked vaccines or medical assistance. Instead, North Korea frequently criticized the US's “hostile position” and carried out a variety of missile tests, which seemed more provocative and capable throughout the year. Pyongyang also restarted the Yongbyon nuclear facilities for producing fissile materials. This assertive and provocative behavior was emboldened by steadily closer ties with traditional allies, notably China and Russia. Meanwhile, North Korea largely showed a cold, dismissive attitude to its southern counterpart.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)53-61
Number of pages9
JournalAsian Survey
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2022 Feb 1

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2022 by The Regents of the University of California. All rights reserved. Please direct all requests for permission to photocopy or reproduce article content through the University of California Press's Reprints and Permissions web page,

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Sociology and Political Science


Dive into the research topics of 'North Korea in 2021: Pyongyang's double game'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this