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Monday, January 30, 2012

North Korea: U.S. Relations, Nuclear Diplomacy, and Internal Situation

Emma Chanlett-Avery
Specialist in Asian Affairs

North Korea has been among the most vexing and persistent problems in U.S. foreign policy in the post-Cold War period. The United States has never had formal diplomatic relations with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (the official name for North Korea). Negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program have consumed the past three U.S. administrations, even as some analysts anticipated a collapse of the isolated authoritarian regime. North Korea has been the recipient of well over $1 billion in U.S. aid and the target of dozens of U.S. sanctions.

This report provides background information on the negotiations over North Korea’s nuclear weapons program that began in the early 1990s under the Clinton Administration. As U.S. policy toward Pyongyang evolved through the George W. Bush presidency and into the Obama Administration, the negotiations moved from mostly bilateral to the multilateral Six-Party Talks (made up of China, Japan, Russia, North Korea, South Korea, and the United States). Although the negotiations have reached some key agreements that lay out deals for aid and recognition to North Korea in exchange for denuclearization, major problems with implementation have persisted. With talks suspended since 2009, concern about proliferation to other actors has grown.

After Kim Jong-il’s sudden death in December 2011, the reclusive regime now faces the challenge of transferring dynastic power to his youngest son, Kim Jong-un. Pyongyang had shown signs of reaching out in 2011 after a string of provocative acts in 2010, including an alleged torpedo attack on a South Korean warship that killed 46 South Korean servicemen and an artillery attack on Yeonpyeong Island that killed two South Korean Marines and two civilians. When Kim passed, the United States was reportedly on the verge of announcing an agreement on food aid and Pyongyang had indicated a willingness to freeze some parts of its nuclear program.

The Obama Administration, like its predecessors, faces fundamental decisions on how to approach North Korea. To what degree should the United States attempt to isolate the regime diplomatically and financially? Should those efforts be balanced with engagement initiatives that continue to push for steps toward denuclearization, or for better human rights behavior? Should the United States adjust its approach in the post-Kim Jong-il era? Is China a reliable partner in efforts to pressure Pyongyang? Have the North’s nuclear tests and alleged torpedo attack demonstrated that regime change is the only way to peaceful resolution? How should the United States consider its alliance relationships with Japan and South Korea as it formulates its North Korea policy? Should the United States continue to offer humanitarian aid?

Although the primary focus of U.S. policy toward North Korea is the nuclear weapons program, there are a host of other issues, including Pyongyang’s missile program, illicit activities, and poor human rights record. Modest attempts at engaging North Korea, including joint operations to recover U.S. servicemen’s remains from the Korean War and some discussion about opening a U.S. liaison office in Pyongyang, remain suspended along with the nuclear negotiations.

This report will be updated periodically. (This report covers the overall U.S.-North Korea relationship, with an emphasis on the diplomacy of the Six-Party Talks. For information on the technical issues involved in North Korea’s weapons programs and delivery systems, as well as the steps involved in denuclearization, please see the companion piece to this report, CRS Report RL34256, North Korea’s Nuclear Weapons: Technical Issues, by Mary Beth Nikitin. Please refer to the list at the end of this report for the full list of CRS reports focusing on other North Korean issues.)



Date of Report: January 17, 2012
Number of Pages: 24
Order Number: R41259
Price: $29.95

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Friday, January 27, 2012

Kim Jong-il’s Death: Implications for North Korea’s Stability and U.S. Policy


Mark E. Manyin
Specialist in Asian Affairs

North Korea represents one of the United States’ biggest foreign policy challenges due to its production and proliferation of nuclear weapons and missiles, the threat of attacks against South Korea, its record of human rights abuses, and the possibility that its internal problems could destabilize Northeast Asia. The North Korean government’s December 19, 2011, announcement of the death of the country’s “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong-il, has the potential to be a watershed moment in the history of the Korean Peninsula and the region.1 Ever since the death of his father, the “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung, in 1994, Kim Jong-il had sat at the apex of a highly centralized, brutal regime. During his tenure, his regime subjected North Korea’s people to profound impoverishment and massive food shortages, developed nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, and sold technology related to both programs abroad.

The effect of Kim Jong-il’s death on North Korea’s stability is uncertain. Many experts doubt that his anointed successor, his third son Kim Jong-un, will over the course of time be able to maintain effective control over his country due to his relative inexperience and the mounting internal and external pressures confronting North Korea. Yet, the North Korean regime under the elder Kim proved to be remarkably resilient, and many of the forces that held it together will continue to operate even if the young Kim himself remains weak. A key to the Kim Jong-un regime’s stability will be its ability to continue obtaining and distributing funds, mostly from external sources. Of particular importance will be China’s willingness to provide commercial, financial, and other support for the regime. Over the years, China reportedly has resisted repeated U.S. and South Korean attempts to discuss North Korea contingency plans. It is unclear whether Kim Jong-il’s death will change this situation, though there have been calls to redouble outreach to Beijing. A possible opportunity for high-level dialogue could come in January 2012, when Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping visits Washington, DC. Xi is widely expected to be chosen as China’s top leader over the coming year.

Very little is known about the inner workings of the North Korean elite, as evidenced by the U.S. and South Korean intelligence services apparent surprise at the announcement of Kim Jong-il’s death. Even less is known about Kim Jong-un, who is believed to be in his late 20s and to have attended primary school in Switzerland in the 1990s. Kim Jong-un was being groomed to be the successor since his father’s August 2008 stroke that put a spotlight on the succession question.

In the days after the announcement, U.S. and South Korean officials issued statements that expressed support for the North Korean people, hope that the new leadership will continue recent diplomatic initiatives with Washington and Seoul, and a desire for a smooth transition in Pyongyang. (For the text of these statements as well as a joint message from several Chinese state and communist party organs, see the Appendix. U.S. and South Korean influence over events in North Korea is widely believed to be limited. In the coming weeks, the Obama Administration will be confronted with a decision of whether to persist with two proposed new agreements that reportedly were in the process of being concluded with the Kim Jong-il government in mid- December: a resumption of U.S. food assistance, and in return, a reported agreement by North Korea to shut down key sites of its nuclear program and open them to international monitoring.  Members of Congress will have the opportunity to support or oppose these moves, as well as to propose new pressure and engagement tactics of their own.



Date of Report: January 11, 2012
Number of Pages: 16
Order Number: R42126
Price: $29.95

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Friday, January 6, 2012

China's Currency Policy: An Analysis of the Economic Issues


Wayne M. Morrison
Specialist in Asian Trade and Finance

Marc Labonte
Specialist in Macroeconomic Policy


China’s policy of intervening in currency markets to limit or halt the appreciation of its currency, the renminbi (RMB), against the U.S. dollar and other currencies has become an issue of concern for many in Congress. Critics charge that China’s currency policy is intended to make its exports significantly less expensive, and its imports more expensive, than would occur if the RMB were a freely-traded currency. They contend that the RMB is significantly undervalued against the dollar and that this has been a major contributor to the large annual U.S. trade deficits with China and the loss of U.S. jobs in recent years. Several bills have been introduced the 112th Congress that seek to address the effects of undervalued currencies (which are largely aimed at China), including H.R. 639, S. 328, S. 1130, S. 1267, and S. 1619 (which passed the Senate on October 11, 2011). On the other hand, some analysts contend that China’s industrial policies, its failure to adequately protect U.S. intellectual property rights, and its unbalanced economic growth model, pose more serious challenges to U.S. economic interests than China’s currency policy. Some U.S. business groups have also expressed concern that U.S. currency legislation could aggravate U.S.- China commercial ties.

From July 2005 to July 2008, China’s central bank allowed the RMB to appreciate against the dollar by about 21%. However, once the effects of the global economic crisis became apparent in 2008, China halted appreciation of the RMB in an effort to help Chinese industries dependent on trade. From July 2008 to about mid-June 2010, China kept the exchange rate of the RMB relatively constant at 6.83 yuan (the base unit of the RMB) to the dollar. On June 19, 2010, China resumed appreciation of the RMB, and since then, China has allowed the RMB/dollar exchange rate to rise by 7.6% (to 6.35 yuan per dollar) through November 30, 2011. However, many U.S. officials have criticized this pace as being too slow, especially given China’s strong economic growth over the past few years, including its trade sector, and its rising level of foreign exchange reserves.

Many economists argue that the effects of China’s currency policy on the U.S. economy are complex. If the RMB is undervalued (as many contend), then it might be viewed as an indirect export subsidy which artificially lowers the prices of Chinese products imported into the United States. Under this view, this benefits U.S. consumers and U.S. firms that use Chinese-made parts and components, but could negatively affect certain U.S. import-sensitive firms. An undervalued RMB might also have the effect of limiting the level of U.S. exports to China than might occur under a floating exchange rate system. Further complicating the issue is China’s large purchases of U.S. Treasury securities, which totaled at least $1.15 trillion as of September 2011. These purchases occur because China’s intervention in currency markets causes it to accumulate large levels of foreign exchange reserves, especially U.S. dollars, which are then used to purchase U.S. debt. Such purchases help the U.S. government fund its budget deficit, which helps to keep U.S. interest rates relatively low. These factors suggest that an appreciation of the RMB to the dollar could benefit some U.S. sectors, but could negatively affect others. The effects of the global economic slowdown have refocused attention on the need to reduce global imbalances (in savings, investment, and trade), especially between China and the United States. Many economists contend that China should take steps to rebalance its economy by lessening its dependence on exports and fixed investment as the main drivers of its economic growth while boosting the level of domestic consumer demand. A market-based currency policy is seen as an important factor in achieving this goal. Further RMB appreciation could help promote the development of non-export industries in China, while boosting China’s imports, including from the United States.



Date of Report: December 19, 2011
Number of Pages: 47
Order Number: RS21625
Price: $29.95

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Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Kim Jong-il’s Death: Implications for North Korea’s Stability and U.S. Policy


Mark E. Manyin
Specialist in Asian Affairs

North Korea represents one of the United States’ biggest foreign policy challenges due to its production and proliferation of nuclear weapons and missiles, the threat of attacks against South Korea, its record of human rights abuses, and the possibility that its internal problems could destabilize Northeast Asia. The North Korean government’s December 19, 2011, announcement of the death of the country’s “Dear Leader,” Kim Jong-il, has the potential to be a watershed moment in the history of the Korean Peninsula and the region.  Ever since the death of his father, the “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung, in 1994, Kim Jong-il had sat at the apex of a highly centralized, brutal regime. During his tenure, his regime subjected North Korea’s people to profound impoverishment and massive food shortages, developed nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, and sold technology related to both programs abroad.

The effect of Kim Jong-il’s death on North Korea’s stability is uncertain. Many experts doubt that his anointed successor, his third son Kim Jong-un, will over the course of time be able to maintain effective control over his country due to his relative inexperience and the mounting internal and external pressures confronting North Korea. Yet, the North Korean regime under the elder Kim proved to be remarkably resilient, and many of the forces that held it together will continue to operate even if the young Kim himself remains weak. A key to the Kim Jong-un regime’s stability will be its ability to continue obtaining and distributing funds, mostly from external sources. Of particular importance will be China’s willingness to provide commercial, financial, and other support for the regime. Over the years, China reportedly has resisted repeated U.S. and South Korean attempts to discuss North Korea contingency plans. It is unclear whether Kim Jong-il’s death will change this situation, though there have been calls to redouble outreach to Beijing. A possible opportunity for high-level dialogue could come in January 2012, when Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping visits Washington, DC. Xi is widely expected to be chosen as China’s top leader over the coming year.

Very little is known about the inner workings of the North Korean elite, as evidenced by the U.S. and South Korean intelligence services apparent surprise at the announcement of Kim Jong-il’s death. Even less is known about Kim Jong-un, who is believed to be in his late 20s and to have attended primary school in Switzerland in the 1990s. Kim Jong-un was being groomed to be the successor since his father’s August 2008 stroke that put a spotlight on the succession question.

In the days after the announcement, U.S. and South Korean officials issued statements that expressed support for the North Korean people, hope that the new leadership will continue recent diplomatic initiatives with Washington and Seoul, and a desire for a smooth transition in Pyongyang. (For the text of these statements as well as a joint message from several Chinese state and communist party organs, see the Appendix. U.S. and South Korean influence over events in North Korea is widely believed to be limited. In the coming weeks, the Obama Administration will be confronted with a decision of whether to persist with two proposed new agreements that reportedly were in the process of being concluded with the Kim Jong-il government in mid- December: a resumption of U.S. food assistance, and in return, a reported agreement by North Korea to shut down key sites of its nuclear program and open them to international monitoring.  Members of Congress will have the opportunity to support or oppose these moves, as well as to propose new pressure and engagement tactics of their own.



Date of Report: December 22, 2011
Number of Pages: 14
Order Number: R42126
Price: $29.95

Follow us on TWITTER at
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Document available via e-mail as a pdf file or in paper form.
To order, e-mail Penny Hill Press or call us at 301-253-0881. Provide a Visa, MasterCard, American Express, or Discover card number, expiration date, and name on the card. Indicate whether you want e-mail or postal delivery. Phone orders are preferred and receive priority processing.