North Korea just signaled its immense disdain for a top American leader. And no, it’s not President Donald Trump.
In a Tuesday statement, the state-run Korean Central News Agency published a scathing article targeting top Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden. While it contains bombastic language, the piece also includes pointed, insulting remarks about the former vice president and references the controversy over how he has interacted with women.
The reason North Korea is lashing out dates back to Biden’s campaign launch last Saturday, where he rhetorically asked a Philadelphia crowd, “Are we a nation that embraces dictators and tyrants like [Russian President Vladimir] Putin and [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un?” That comment referred to Trump’s admiration of autocrats and apparent preference for them over democratic leaders.
Pyongyang doesn’t take kindly to criticisms of its leader, especially when it comes from a top American political figure. After a few days, North Korea struck back with a vengeance.
“What he uttered is just sophism of an imbecile bereft of elementary quality as a human being, let alone a politician,” read the statement. “He has been accused even within the Democratic Party, to say nothing of the American society, for his vulgar acts and words about women and his thoughtless remarks.”
It continued, calling him “a fool of low IQ,” and listed off a series of embarrassing moments in Biden’s life. For example, the piece touches on how Biden fell asleep during a 2011 speech by then-President Barack Obama, or how in 1987 he admitted to plagiarizing in school.
And then, well, there’s this: “[H]e is self-praising himself as being the most popular presidential candidate. This is enough to make a cat laugh.” (My cat, for the record, prefers food and endless pets to laughter.)
Yes, this is all silly — but the statement also reveals something quite interesting.
First, it’s clear that the North Korean regime has a very long memory and a deep understanding of American politics. The commentary cited moments in Biden’s past that most Americans either forgot or didn’t know. It goes to show that operatives in Pyongyang are very aware of what key US figures are doing and have done — or they’re excellent at searching for information online.
And second, it shows that Pyongyang simply isn’t that into Biden. North Korea’s “animosity toward him is deep and guaranteed,” Van Jackson, an expert at the Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, tweeted Tuesday night. “It’s under appreciated how ‘hostile’ Obama’s sanctions and military posturing toward Pyongyang were in 2016. Biden 2020 is to Kim Jong Un as Clinton 2016 was to Putin.”
Biden’s campaign seems fine with that. “Given Vice President Biden’s record of standing up for American values and interests, it’s no surprise that North Korea would prefer that Donald Trump remain in the White House,” Andrew Bates, a Biden campaign spokesperson, told me.
That means Pyongyang won’t rejoice if Biden defeats Trump next year — which is why it may be trying to make its preference known now.
“I think if Trump reads the commentary, he’ll be happy about it”
While North Korea’s Tuesday statement came in reaction to Biden’s Kim comment, it’s also worth looking at Pyongyang’s acerbic words as a clear message to Trump.
“North Korea knows that it will benefit from a good relationship with Trump, so the commentary was probably made to support and please him,” Rüdiger Frank, a North Korea expert at Austria’s University of Vienna, told me. “I think if Trump reads the commentary, he’ll be happy about it.”
That makes sense. While Kim and Trump threatened to go to war in 2017, the years since have featured two dramatic summits and a general pause in North Korea’s weapons tests. Whether Kim genuinely likes Trump or believes he can extract concessions from the president, it’s clear he still wants him in the Oval Office after the next election.
“North Korea has not been shy in the past about seeming to publicly favor one side or another in US and Korean elections,” Mintaro Oba, who worked on North Korea at the State Department, told NK News on Wednesday. “They’re probably calculating there’s more to gain from creating a perception they favor President Trump than any cost from criticizing a potential future president so early in the race.”
It’s therefore likely that North Korea may say harsh things about any Democratic candidate who goes against Trump, whether or not Biden is the nominee. So it’s (kind of) official: North Korea endorses Donald Trump for president.