Ambassador Joseph Yun is a senior advisor to the Asia program at the U.S. Institute of Peace. As former U.S. 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 U.S.-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 for North Korea from 2016 to 2018, Ambassador Yun 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 U.S. ambassador to Malaysia. During his tenure, Ambassador Yun hosted two visits to Malaysia by President Obama—the first by any U.S. president since 1966—resulting in the signing of the U.S.-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 from 2011-2013, he led efforts to normalize diplomatic relations with Myanmar. 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 stints as deputy assistant secretary for Southeast Asian policy, counselor for political affairs in the U.S. Embassy in Seoul, economic counselor at the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok, as well as positions 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 U.S. 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 master’s degree from the London School of Economics and a bachelor’s from the University of Wales. He speaks Korean, English, Indonesian and French.

Publications By Joseph

North Korea Poses Old Challenges to New U.S. Administration

North Korea Poses Old Challenges to New U.S. Administration

Wednesday, January 27, 2021

By:Ambassador Joseph Yun;Frank Aum

Just a week before President Biden was inaugurated, North Korea provided a reminder that it would continue to pose challenges to Washington—but left the door open for renewed engagement. During Pyongyang’s eighth Party Congress, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was surprisingly candid about his country’s economic struggles. He also followed a familiar refrain, emphasizing the importance of strengthening North Korea’s military capabilities and calling Washington enemy number one. The Biden administration will come into office facing the same situation with North Korea that has bedeviled Washington for decades.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

Nuclear Diplomacy with North Korea: What’s Ahead for the Biden Administration?

Nuclear Diplomacy with North Korea: What’s Ahead for the Biden Administration?

Monday, December 21, 2020

By:Frank Aum;Ambassador Joseph Yun

The Biden administration faces a situation with North Korea similar to what President Obama faced in 2009, with U.S.-DPRK engagement on its last legs. Obama appeared interested in reviving the Six Party Talks, but slow outreach to North Korea allowed Pyongyang to seize the narrative by conducting a satellite launch in April and a nuclear test in May, which doomed engagement for an extended period. Biden will face a similar decision about how to engage North Korea, including whether to move forward with joint U.S.-South Korea military exercises in March, and whether to reaffirm the outcomes of the 2018 joint U.S.-DPRK Singapore Statement, which Pyongyang has yet to renounce but is on life support.

Type: Analysis and Commentary

Mediation, Negotiation & Dialogue

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, Ph.D.;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

View All