Ambassador Joseph Yun is senior advisor to the Asia Program at USIP.  As former US Special Representative for North Korea Policy, he is recognized as one of the nation’s leading experts on relations with North Korea, as well as on broader US-East Asian policy. His 33-year diplomatic career has been marked by his commitment to face-to-face engagement as the best avenue for resolving conflict and advancing cross-border cooperation.

As Special Envoy on North Korea from 2016 to 2018, Ambassador Yun led the State Department’s efforts to align regional powers  behind a united policy to denuclearize North Korea. He was  instrumental in reopening the “New York channel,” a direct  communication line with officials from Pyongyang, through which he was able to secure the release of the American student, Otto Warmbier, who had been held in captivity for 15 months.

From 2013 to 2016 he served as US Ambassador to Malaysia, actively forwarding the administration’s goal of elevating relations with Southeast Asia. During his tenure, Ambassador Yun hosted two visits to Malaysia by President Obama—the first by any US President since 1966—resulting in the signing of the US-Malaysian Comprehensive Partnership Agreement, pledging closer cooperation on security, trade, education, technology, energy, the environment, and  people-to-people ties.

As Principal Deputy Assistant Secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs (2011-2013), he led efforts to normalize diplomatic relations with Myanmar, traveling to Rangoon as the first US-based government official to meet with Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi following her release from house arrest. He also worked to lay the foundation for official participation by the President of the United States in the annual East Asian Summit, starting from 2011.

Previous assignments include Deputy Assistant Secretary for Southeast Asian Policy, Counselor for Political Affairs in the US Embassy in Seoul, Economic Counselor in the US Embassy in Bangkok, as well as earlier assignments in South Korea, Indonesia, Hong Kong, and France. He is the recipient of a Presidential Meritorious Service Award, four Superior Honors Awards, and nine Foreign Service Performance Awards from the US State Department.

Ambassador Yun joined the Foreign Service in 1985. Prior to that he was a senior economist for Data Resources, Inc., in Lexington, Massachusetts.  He holds a M. Phil. degree from the London School of Economics and a BS from the University of Wales.  He speaks Korean, Indonesian and French.  He is married to Dr. Melanie Billings-Yun. They have one son, Matthew.

Publications By Joseph

Four Ideas for a More Practical Approach to North Korea

Four Ideas for a More Practical Approach to North Korea

Thursday, October 1, 2020

By: Ambassador Joseph Yun; Frank Aum

A significant impediment for the United States is that it continues to narrowly limit its policy options while North Korean capabilities expand unabated. Washington’s window of discourse on North Korea policy largely consists of: Pressure the Kim regime through sanctions; don’t legitimize or reward it until preconditions are met; and don’t make any concessions until the North takes significant denuclearization measures first. To achieve any sustained results, these policy boundaries must be substantially widened to include more realistic and practical measures. We, along with our colleagues at USIP, explored many of these issues in a recent report, “A Peace Regime for the Korean Peninsula.”

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

North Korea: Coronavirus, Missiles and Diplomacy

North Korea: Coronavirus, Missiles and Diplomacy

Tuesday, April 7, 2020

By: Ambassador Joseph Yun; Frank Aum; Paul Kyumin Lee

Despite reporting no cases of COVID-19, North Korea’s poor health infrastructure and proximity to coronavirus hotspots make it especially vulnerable to the deadly pandemic. Increasing the risks, humanitarian workers and medical supplies in the North Korea are limited by travel restrictions and sanctions even as the U.N. sanctions committee provided some exemptions to help deal with the virus. An outbreak of the disease in North Korea could have crippling political and socioeconomic consequences, even threatening its internal stability.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Conflict Analysis & Prevention; Global Health

A Peace Regime for the Korean Peninsula

A Peace Regime for the Korean Peninsula

Monday, February 3, 2020

By: Frank Aum; Jacob Stokes; Patricia M. Kim; Atman M. Trivedi; Rachel Vandenbrink; Jennifer Staats ; Ambassador Joseph Yun

A joint statement by the United States and North Korea in June 2018 declared that the two countries were committed to building “a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula.” Such a peace regime will ultimately require the engagement and cooperation of not just North Korea and the United States, but also South Korea, China, Russia, and Japan. This report outlines the perspectives and interests of each of these countries as well as the diplomatic, security, and economic components necessary for a comprehensive peace.

Type: Peaceworks

Global Policy

What’s Next with North Korea?

What’s Next with North Korea?

Tuesday, August 13, 2019

By: Frank Aum; Ambassador Joseph Yun

It’s been over a month since President Trump became the first sitting American president to set foot in North Korea. After months of stalled talks, this third Trump-Kim meeting was greeted with optimism, as the two leaders agreed to resume working-level negotiations. Not only have those talks not started up again, but North Korea has since conducted several missile tests in what many experts believe is a bid to maintain pressure on Washington and Seoul.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

The North Korea Show: More Than a Photo Op

The North Korea Show: More Than a Photo Op

Monday, July 1, 2019

By: Frank Aum; Ambassador Joseph Yun

News coverage of President Trump’s meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has focused significantly on the optics of their televised encounter at the demarcation line separating North and South Korea. But according to two senior U.S. experts—Ambassador Joseph Yun, the former U.S. special representative for North Korea policy, and Frank Aum, who served as advisor for North Korea to four U.S. defense secretaries—the announced plan for a resumption of working-level talks is potentially significant.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

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