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View more articles by Jacob Fromer
Jacob Fromer is NK News's Washington DC correspondent. He previously worked in the U.S. Senate.
A spokesman for Joe Biden’s presidential campaign denounced “repugnant dictators” and their supporters on Friday, saying that they likely find the former U.S. Vice President “threatening,” according to a report in the Associated Press.
The comment, from one of the Democratic party’s leading campaigns in the race to take on President Donald Trump in next year’s election, came hours after a graphic, insult-laden attack on Biden was published in North Korean state media on Thursday.
Without referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un by name, the campaign spokesman’s statement was likely an attempt to draw a contrast with Trump over his outwardly expressed admiration for some of the world’s authoritarian leaders, including Kim — and, perhaps, send a message to those leaders that Biden, if he is elected in 2020, may deal with them differently.
“It’s becoming more and more obvious that repugnant dictators, as well as those who admire and ‘love’ them, find Joe Biden threatening,” said Andrew Bates, the campaign spokesman, according to the AP.
“That’s because he’d restore American leadership in the world on day one by putting our security, interests and values at the heart of our foreign policy,” he added.
North Korea’s invective against Biden — the essay referred to the former Vice President as a “rabid dog” — appeared to be far harsher in its language than other verbal attacks against American officials published in recent days.
“A rabid dog in the U.S. has another fit of spasm, being greedy for power,” a commentary in the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
“Baiden [sic] bereft of elementary appearance as a human being, much less a politician, again reeled off a string of rubbish against the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK,” the statement said.
It is unclear which of Biden’s remarks the “string of rubbish” is referencing.
One possibility is a new campaign ad that began airing this week in the state of Iowa — the site of the Democrats’ first statewide primary early next year — which targets Trump’s relationships with “dictators and tyrants.”
In the ad, when the narrator says the word “tyrant,” a picture of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un — grinning and grasping each other’s hands — appears on the screen.
“Baiden, listen carefully,” the KCNA statement said. “Anyone who dare slanders the dignity of the supreme leadership of the DPRK, can never spare the DPRK’s merciless punishment whoever and wherever.”
“And he will be made to see even in a grave what horrible consequences will be brought about by his thoughtless utterances,” the statement continued. “Rabid dogs like Baiden can hurt lots of people if they are allowed to run about. They must be beaten to death with a stick, before it is too late.”
And, the KCNA statement added: “Doing so will be beneficial for the U.S. also.”
One expert told NK News that while Pyongyang does tend to respond when foreign politicians insult North Korean leadership, Thursday’s diatribe against Biden — published among a series of insults and threats lobbed at the U.S. this week, mostly centered around stalled nuclear negotiations and upcoming joint military drills with South Korea — may serve an added purpose: keeping Trump happy.
“North Korea often feels a need to respond if they feel a high-profile figure has attacked their leader personally,” said Mintaro Oba, a former U.S. State Department diplomat working on North Korea issues, adding that “in the Trump era, there’s also a benefit to shielding President Trump himself from criticism while finding other ways to put pressure on the United States.”
“Tactically, I think there’s a near-term goal and a long-term goal in attacking Biden,” Oba told NK News.
“Long term, they probably want to send the signal that politicians who take a really negative posture against North Korea are going to prompt heightened tensions with North Korea if they become president,” he said. “Near term, they wouldn’t mind appealing to President Trump’s ego and focus on re-election by attacking Biden.”
The KCNA commentary and the Biden campaign’s response also come at the end of the first week of public impeachment hearings against President Trump in the U.S. House of Representatives.
The case being argued against Trump is related to an alleged effort by the President and his allies to push Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son — thereby weakening Biden’s candidacy against Trump.
Earlier this year, after a different KCNA commentary called Biden “a fool of low IQ,” a White House spokeswoman said that President Trump and Kim Jong Un “agree in their assessment” of the former Vice President.
(In that vein, Thursday’s KCNA commentary also said that “even the Americans call him ‘1% Baiden’ with low I.Q., ‘mad Baiden,’ and ‘Baiden not awakened from a sleep'” — perhaps a reference to “Sleepy Joe Biden,” a nickname President Trump has used during the campaign.)
It does not appear that North Korean state media has attacked other Democratic candidates by name, but Biden is unique in the field because of his previous role as Vice President.
Six sitting U.S. Senators — all of whom, during their time in elected office, have voted on legislation antagonistic to the DPRK and have explicitly criticized Trump’s relationship with Kim Jong Un — are also running for President.
A search of North Korean state media archives found no mentions of any of them.
Featured image: U.S. National Archives