interviews leading North Korea experts for timely analysis on North Korea once a month. For this month, we invited Andrew Yeo (SK-Korea Foundation Chair in Korea Studies, Brookings Institution; Professor, Catholic University of America) to analyze the implications of the Russia-Ukraine war on East Asia and discuss prospects for the Biden and Yoon administrations’ North Korea policies. While the Ukraine crisis has distracted the world from North Korea, Professor Yeo claims that its weapons development remains a grave concern for the U.S. and its allies. In this regard, he discusses the potential of sanctions relief in inducing North Korea to return to the negotiation table. Professor Yeo further discusses the U.S. response to the South Korean presidential elections — while the pro-U.S. Yoon administration may be conducive for strengthening the ROK-U.S. partnership, he emphasizes that it will not blindly give in to U.S. demands. Finally, Professor Yeo notes that U.S.-ROK military coordination is a key precondition for the relocation of the presidential office and other security matters.


The interview is comprised of three parts – “Part I: Russia-Ukraine War and East Asia,” “Part II: Biden Administration’s North Korea Policy in 2022,” and “Part III: Policy Recommendations for the New South Korean Government.”


I. The Russia-Ukraine War and East Asia: “Never waste a good crisis”

  • ㆍ The Russia-Ukraine War attests to the idea that “military coercion and invasion are a reality.” Defense and deterrence are still highly relevant in terms of international security.
  • ㆍ Professor Yeo states that “the Biden administration has done very well in rallying allies and partners around the world,” not only in Europe, but also in Asia. He claims that “the Biden administration has taken advantage of the Ukrainian situation to try to strengthen its allies and partners and sustain the order it prefers, which is a liberal international order.”


II. Implications of the War on U.S.-China Relations: “Xi Jinping is in a bad spot”

  • ㆍ Professor Yeo says that “Beijing did not expect an all-out invasion ... and fell into wishful thinking that Russia would only compel and threaten Ukraine, but not actually engage in a full-scale invasion of a sovereign country, which Beijing also supports.”
  • ㆍ “So we find Xi Jinping on this defensive, where it has to weigh and calculate its relationship with the West, with the U.S. and the EU on one hand and Russia with the other.” In other words, “Beijing is learning what it means to be isolated from the international community, especially the West.”


III. Biden’s North Korea Policy in 2022

  • ㆍ Professor Yeo casts doubts on the effectiveness of sanctions, stating that “North Korea has imposed its own sanctions with the border lockdown due to the pandemic and that's had a stronger effect in terms of closing off North Korea from the rest of the world than any UN or U.S. sanctions.”
  • ㆍ He claims that the “U.S. should counterintuitively actually think about releasing some of the sanctions and trying to draw North Korea out of its shell.” In order to enhance security on the Korean Peninsula, Professor Yeo suggests that “engagement or dialogue” is necessary. “It wouldn’t be a huge loss to offer some level of sanctions relief in return (for engagement).”


IV. U.S. Viewpoint on the South Korean Presidential Elections

  • ㆍ “At a broad level, Americans, particularly policymakers in Washington including the Biden administration, are happy with the election outcomes.” Provided that the Biden administration aims to “establish standards and rules that can persist down the road,” it sees Yoon as “a partner to work with and establish common standards and rules that can establish a rules-based order for the region.”
  • ㆍ However, he notes that this does not necessarily entail full South Korean compliance to U.S.-led initiatives in the Indo-Pacific. While the Yoon administration will be more vocal towards China, it will still maintain friendly relations in order to secure economic ties.


V. ROK-U.S. Consultation Required for the Relocation of the Presidential Office

  • ㆍ The Yoon administration has been keen on moving the presidential office from the Cheongwadae (Blue House) to Yongsan, where the Ministry of National Defense is located. Professor Yeo notes that this requires “coordination between the U.S. and South Korean militaries for command and control.” Whether the Yoon administration’s decision to relocate can garner U.S support “remains to be seen.” ■


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VI. Biography


Andrew Yeo_ SK-Korea Foundation Chair in Korea Studies at Brookings Institution’s Center for East Asia Policy Studies. He is also a professor of politics and director of Asian studies at The Catholic University of America. His most recent book publication is State, Society and Markets in North Korea with Cambridge University Press. Yeo received his doctorate in government from Cornell University, and bachelor's in psychology and international studies (magna cum laude) from Northwestern University.



Typeset by Seung Yeon Lee,Research Associate
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