Editorials - 04-05-2021

While national leaders can provide support, the ground work needs to be done by local leaders with a mass base and sustained presence in local politics

Even as the nation battles the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, Assembly elections have been completed in four States (Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Assam and West Bengal)and one Union Territory (Puducherry). Though citizens and governments came to be exposed to the debilitating impact of COVID-19 in the course of these elections, voter turnout did not see any major decline. The five electoral outcomes mirror the diversity that the country represents.

In these trying times, the Centre for the Study of Developing Societies (CSDS)-Lokniti conducted a post-poll survey in the States that went to the polls (the post-poll survey was not conducted in Puducherry). Our field investigators followed all the strict protocols that the pandemic necessitated and did a truly commendable job (See methodology). We present in a series of articles, to be published over the next few days, an explanation of the electoral verdict as seen from the perceptions and attitudes of citizens.

This round of State elections is set to impact the trajectory of Indian politics in important ways. The verdicts underscore the specificity of the local in defining and determining electoral outcomes. Three of the four ruling parties/ coalitions secured another term in office, while one was voted out of power. Like Assam, Puducherry, too, decided to entrust power to the National Democratic Alliance (NDA). All these States saw a sharp bipolar contest with the third player being relegated to a distant third position. As these were verdicts on who should be entrusted with the responsibility of managing the State administration, the leadership at the State level came to be a key factor. Clearly, the voter in India is making a categorical distinction between voting in a national election and in a State election. If more proof was needed of the same, it was provided by the electorate in the States that went to the polls.

State-wise analysis

A deeper analysis of the specificities of the local merits attention. Kerala set aside its revolving door policy of four decades and accorded a second term to the Left Democratic Front (LDF). While it was a clear endorsement of the track record of the State government, it was also an expression of disapproval of the ruling party at the Centre.

In Tamil Nadu, the All India Anna Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (AIADMK) faced the consequence of visible anti-incumbency after being in power for 10 years. Further, being the first election after the death of both Karunanidhi and Jayalalithaa, the victory of the Dravida Munnetra Kazhagam (DMK) is a clear indicator of M.K. Stalin having been accepted as the inheritor of his father’s legacy by the DMK supporters. In the case of the AIADMK, it is not clear whether supporters of Jayalalithaa see the present AIADMK (and its leadership) as the true successors of her legacy.

In neighbouring Puducherry, the Congress-led alliance (which was dismissed on the eve of the elections) was neither able to garner any sympathy nor convince the voters of its track record in government.

Assam saw a polarisation on religious lines like never before and the State leadership of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was able to successfully lead a well-planned election strategy and campaign.

The Trinamool Congress under Mamata Banerjee, which retained power in West Bengal, occupied the centre stage both during the election campaign and when the results came trickling in.

While different parties and alliances have won the five elections, the central theme that connects all the verdicts is the privileging of the local. This is further underscored by the data emerging from the CSDS-Lokniti post-poll survey.

State poll vs national poll

The categorical distinction between a national verdict and a State-specific verdict was revealed in the response to the question on whether the respondents felt that for the development of their State, it was necessary that the party in power at the Centre should be the ruling party in their State too (See Table 1). More than half the respondents in Kerala fully disagreed with this statement while in Tamil Nadu, four of every 10 respondents took this stand. Given the sharp polarisation in West Bengal, close to one-thirds of the respondents fully disagreed with this statement. It was only in Assam that four of 10 respondents strongly agreed with the statement. In the southern States, it was very clear that voters saw little merit in the same party being in power at both levels while the jury was more divided in the east.

The focus on the local was also visible in the levels of satisfaction with the State and Central governments (See Table 2). If the results of the present post-poll survey are compared with those of the post-poll survey conducted after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it is noticed that the net satisfaction (percentage of those satisfied minus those dissatisfied) with the State government has increased and is uniformly high. In Kerala and West Bengal, the net satisfaction was reasonably high. In the case of Kerala, the net satisfaction with the Central government was in the negative and in West Bengal it had declined as compared to two years ago. In Tamil Nadu, the net satisfaction with the State government was very marginal while the dissatisfaction with the Central government was evident. Assam saw a net satisfaction with both the Central and State government as what was recorded in 2019 and this explains the return of the BJP to power.

The highlighting of the local is also evident in the strong pro-incumbency sentiment in the three States where the ruling party/coalition was returned to power (See Table 3). In Kerala and West Bengal, over half the respondents wanted the ruling party back in power. In Assam this sentiment was expressed by four of every 10 respondents. In Tamil Nadu, which saw the defeat of the incumbent, half the respondents were against the incumbent being given a second chance. Clearly, the voters’ perception of the performance of their State governments was critical in the decision on who to vote for.

It must, of course, be highlighted that the primacy accorded to the party over the local candidate in the polls was evident in the post-poll survey (See Table 4). Across States, close to six of every 10 respondents said that they kept in mind the party when voting. In Kerala and Assam, three of every 10 respondents stated that the candidate drove their voting choice.

The same view on CAA

On one critical matter, all four States seem to have a common approach — about the Citizenship (Amendment) Act. In all the four States, complete opposition to the CAA was stronger than the complete support for it (See Table 5). In Kerala, more than half the respondents were completely opposed to it while in Assam, close to half the respondents took that stand. In Tamil Nadu and West Bengal, close to one-thirds of the respondents were fully opposed to it. The jury was mixed when it came to the National Register of Citizens (NRC) (See Table 6): it found very strong support in Assam and lukewarm support in Tamil Nadu. In West Bengal, those fully opposed to it were marginally higher than those in complete support of it. In Kerala, there was a very high degree of opposition to the NRC. The response is directly linked to the political preferences of the voters in that particular State.

Thus, the lessons to be learnt from the verdicts in the four States and one Union Territory are evident. State elections are fought on local factors which define and decide the nature and intensity of a verdict. In the electoral competition for a State, it is evident that the nucleus of the campaign is the local leadership. While national leaders of a party can provide support and enhance the visibility of the party, the ground work needs to be done by local leaders with a mass base and sustained presence in local politics.

In Assam, the BJP has been able to adapt to this State-specificity and also project State-level leadership. It reaped dividends on this score. In the other three States, the BJP appears quite some distance from both adapting to the core features of the State politics and projecting credible leadership from the State. This limitation has halted its onward march in these new territories in spite of considerable headway in West Bengal.

Sandeep Shastri is Vice Chancellor, Jagran Lakecity University Bhopal and the National Co-ordinator of the Lokniti network; Sanjay Kumar is Co-director of the Lokniti programme at CSDS; Suhas Palshikar taught Political Science and is currently the Co-Director of the Lokniti programme and chief editor of Studies in Indian Politics; and Shreyas Sardesai is a Research Associate at Lokniti-CSDS

In all the four States, complete opposition to the Citizenship (Amendment) Act was stronger than the complete support for it.

If the results of the present post-poll survey are compared with those of the post-poll survey conducted after the 2019 Lok Sabha elections, it is noticed that the net satisfaction (percentage of those satisfied minus those dissatisfied) with the State government has increased and is uniformly high

Without good data, accurate projections are impossible, making it difficult to gauge the true state of the pandemic

India, now home to the world’s worst ongoing coronavirus pandemic, is currently reporting nearly a million new cases and 10,000 deaths every three days, according to data released by the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (covid19india.org). The true extent of the second wave now ravaging India is likely much worse than official numbers suggest.

The reasons

Is it a problem noted only in India? Not capturing all COVID-19 cases and COVID-19-related deaths is not unique to India. Research on the behavioural dynamics of COVID-19 (https://bit.ly/337iW75) from a group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology estimates the global under-reporting factor for cumulative cases around 7 and for deaths 1.4 as of December, 2020. Researchers further note that these factors vary substantially across nations. In India, this problem seems to be particularly acute during the second wave based on empirical evidence and epidemiological models.

Why is it hard to capture all COVID-19 infections and related deaths? There could be several reasons why we cannot capture all COVID-19 infections such as silent asymptomatic infections, barriers to testing due to cost and travel time, reluctance to get tested due to COVID-19 associated stigma, limited availability of tests, obtaining a false negative test (remember that diagnostic tests are not perfect) and alike. Deaths related to COVID-19 that are missed often consist of deaths that happened outside health-care facilities at home, and post-COVID-19 deaths where the cause of death is listed as a pre-existing comorbidity such as heart disease or kidney failure. India also has a poor and delayed infrastructure for reporting of deaths and certifying the cause of death in general, particularly in the rural areas. In a 2017 estimate, one out of five deaths was medically reported.

How do we estimate this under-reporting from epidemiologic models? For modelling growth of an epidemic, what we observe are deaths, cases or hospitalisations. However, what really defines an epidemic is not exactly the growth of these observed quantities but the infections, which in turn become these outcomes (deaths, cases, hospitalisations) with some delay, and not all infections get converted to these observed quantities. What proportion of people die from an infection is a very important quantity as it allows us to know how dangerous a disease is. Another important quantity is how many infections a health system identifies, that is, how many of these will actually end up being reported as cases. A high number of infections being caught by the health system shows a successful surveillance strategy.

On epidemiological models

In a recent study (https://bit.ly/3xI3ufO), epidemiological models attempt to capture covert infections by accounting for unreported, but infectious individuals. Expected deaths are then estimated from the estimated number of infections and assumed infection fatality rates based on historical data. Such models (https://bit.ly/3nG50u6) indicate the under-reporting factor for cases between 10 and 20 and for deaths between two and five based on data from the first wave for India.

Can we validate what the models are saying? How do we validate the extent of unreported cases: We can cross-check under-reporting of infections directly with serosurveys carried out in India. The third serosurvey (https://bbc.in/3eMDPdb) conducted by the Indian Council of Medical Research (from December 17, 2020 till January 8, 2021) reports that 21.5% of all Indians above the age of 18 have antibodies present that indicate SARS-CoV-2 infection in the past. Approximately 59% of India’s 1.36 billion citizens are above the age of 18. This implies nearly 173 million adults infected. Factoring in the nearly 11 million COVID-19 cases reported by January 8 (assuming most cases are adults), this points to an implied under-reporting factor of roughly 16 for infections. In other words, only 6% of India’s COVID-19 infections are reported. Hence, the question of “missing infections” in India is undeniable and not contingent on a belief in the legitimacy of mathematical models — it is evident based on figures released by the Indian government/bodies alone.

Mortality data

How to validate the extent of unreported deaths: During wave 1 (https://bbc.in/2RlzDZS), a group of volunteers collected every reported death from obituaries in newspapers and reported almost twice the number of deaths than officially reported. During this recent surge, a recent report inThe New York Times(https://nyti.ms/3xEudK2) noted that authorities in Gujarat reported between 73 and 121 COVID-related deaths each day in mid-April. The report added that one of Gujarat’s leading newspapers,Sandesh, sent reporters to cremation and burial grounds across the State and reported that the number was several times higher, around 600 each day. The extent of this under-reporting is higher than our past model estimates. This current increased case-fatality is not only due to clinical lethality of the virus, but more patients are dying due to not receiving adequate medical care. A way to capture the holistic effect of COVID-19 (direct and indirect impact on mortality) will be to perform a proper excess death calculation where demographers can take the number of people who die from any cause in a given region and period and compare the same with a historical trend based on the past few years and come up with a difference of observed and expected number of deaths. This method of investigating excess deaths is something various nations have explored, such as the United States (https://bit.ly/3eafKh8; 22% excess deaths in 2020 and 72% of these attributed to COVID). India has not made historical mortality data and data from 2020 publicly available, making this calculation infeasible at this point.

Is India testing enough during wave 2? Lack of adequate testing could be one of the causes of missing infections.

Testing in India

To understand India’s scale of testing, let us look at the U.S. during its highest surge in January (November 1-February 15) and India during this recent surge (March 28-April 27) in terms of testing. Thebar plotsshow that India has a maximum daily test positivity ratio (TPR) around 25% and the U.S. had a maximum daily TPR around 15%. More interesting isFigure 2showing seven-day growth rate in cases versus testing. While testing and cases have grown at a comparable rate in the U.S., in India the growth in reported cases on an average has been nearly five times higher than the growth in testing. India is not testing enough.

How does under-reporting matter? Right now, the country is reeling from skyrocketing infection and death counts. This surge has thrown our health-care systems off balance. Crucial medical supplies run dangerously low and hospitals are forced to turn away patients. These forecasting models are used to predict the need for oxygen, hospital beds, intensive care unit care needs, the peak and duration of the pandemic. Without having more informative data, accurate projections are impossible. Knowing the truth is better for both public and policymakers to gauge the true state of the pandemic.

Finally, the exact extent of under-reporting is debatable, but we should never forget that these numbers represent people. The official system can fail to capture the diseased and the deceased, but families cannot. The tragedies that have unfolded in thousands of families in India, with an astounding number of people that are currently sick and grieving for the dead, can never be captured through the reported staggering numbers and the ones that were missed.

Bhramar Mukherjee is Chair of Biostatistics at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Soumik Purkayastha is a doctoral student in Biostatistics at the University of Michigan School of Public Health. Maxwell Salvatore is a doctoral student in Epidemiology at the University of Michigan School of Public Health.

Swapnil Mishra is a research associate at the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis, School of Public Health, Imperial College London

The battle against COVID-19 should also be used as an opportunity to meet India’s ‘One Health’ targets

The father of modern pathology, Rudolf Virchow, emphasised in 1856 that there are essentially no dividing lines between animal and human medicine. This concept is ever more salient as the world continues to grapple with the COVID-19 pandemic. Discussions that took place around World Veterinary Day, on April 24, 2021, focused on acknowledging the interconnectedness of animals, humans, and the environment, an approach referred to as “One Health”.

Across the species barrier

Studies indicate that more than two-thirds of existing and emerging infectious diseases are zoonotic, or can be transferred between animals and humans, and vice versa, when the pathogen in question originates in any life form but circumvents the species barrier. Another category of diseases, “anthropozoonotic” infections, gets transferred from humans to animals. The transboundary impact of viral outbreaks in recent years such as the Nipah virus, Ebola, Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) and Avian Influenza has further reinforced the need for us to consistently document the linkages between the environment, animals, and human health.

India’s framework, plans

India’s ‘One Health’ vision derives its blueprint from the agreement between the tripartite-plus alliance comprising the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the World Organisation for Animal Health (OIE), the World Health Organization (WHO) and the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) — a global initiative supported by the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the World Bank under the overarching goal of contributing to ‘One World, One Health’.

In keeping with the long-term objectives, India established a National Standing Committee on Zoonoses as far back as the 1980s. And this year, funds were sanctioned for setting up a ‘Centre for One Health’ at Nagpur. Further, the Department of Animal Husbandry and Dairying (DAHD) has launched several schemes to mitigate the prevalence of animal diseases since 2015, with a funding pattern along the lines of 60:40 (Centre: State); 90:10 for the Northeastern States, and 100% funding for Union Territories. Hence, under the National Animal Disease Control Programme, Rs. 13,343 crore have been sanctioned for Foot and Mouth disease and Brucellosis control. In addition, DAHD will soon establish a ‘One Health’ unit within the Ministry.

Additionally, the government is working to revamp programmes that focus on capacity building for veterinarians and upgrading the animal health diagnostic system such as Assistance to States for Control of Animal Diseases (ASCAD). In the revised component of assistance to States/Union Territories, there is increased focus on vaccination against livestock diseases and backyard poultry. To this end, assistance will be extended to State biological production units and disease diagnostic laboratories.

WHO estimates that rabies (also a zoonotic disease) costs the global economy approximately $6 billion annually. Considering that 97% of human rabies cases in India are attributed to dogs, interventions for disease management in dogs are considered crucial. DAHD has partnered with the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare in the National Action Plan for Eliminating Dog Mediated Rabies. This initiative is geared towards sustained mass dog vaccinations and public education to render the country free of rabies.

Need for coordination

Scientists have observed that there are more than 1.7 million viruses circulating in wildlife, and many of them are likely to be zoonotic, which implies that unless there is timely detection, India risks facing many more pandemics in times to come. To achieve targets under the ‘One Health’ vision, efforts are ongoing to address challenges pertaining to veterinary manpower shortages, the lack of information sharing between human and animal health institutions, and inadequate coordination on food safety at slaughter, distribution, and retail facilities. These issues can be remedied by consolidating existing animal health and disease surveillance systems — e.g., the Information Network for Animal Productivity and Health (https://bit.ly/2SqNHlr), and the National Animal Disease Reporting System (https://bit.ly/3aVTPbq) — developing best-practice guidelines for informal market and slaughterhouse operation (e.g., inspections, disease prevalence assessments), and creating mechanisms to operationalise ‘One Health’ at every stage down to the village level. Now, as we battle yet another wave of a deadly zoonotic disease (COVID-19), awareness generation, and increased investments toward meeting ‘One Health’ targets is the need of the hour.

Atul Chaturvedi is Secretary, Ministry of Animal Husbandry and Dairying. The views expressed are personal

The findings presented here are from post-poll surveys conducted in Assam, Kerala, Tamil Nadu and West Bengal by the Lokniti programme of CSDS, Delhi.

The surveys were conducted from March 28 to April 21 in Assam, April 7 to April 13 in Kerala, April 7 to April 20 in Tamil Nadu, and March 28 to May 1 in West Bengal.

In Assam, the survey was conducted among 3,490 voters at 140 polling stations spread across 35 Assembly constituencies; in Kerala, among 3,424 voters at 140 polling stations of 35 Assembly constituencies; in Tamil Nadu, among 4,354 voters at 160 polling stations in 40 Assembly constituencies; and in West Bengal, among 4,223 voters at 200 polling stations spread across 50 Assembly constituencies.

Sampling design

The sampling design adopted was multi-stage systematic random sampling. The Assembly constituencies were randomly selected using the probability proportional to size method. Thereafter, four polling stations within each of the sampled constituencies were selected using the systematic random sampling method. Within each polling station, 40 voters were randomly sampled from the electoral roll using the systematic random sampling method. Of these 40, 25 interviews were targeted.

The interviews of electors were conducted face-to-face at their homes after voting had taken place in their area. The questionnaire designed for conducting the interview was a standardised semi-structured one and was translated into the local language/s.

In Assam, the interviews were conducted in Assamese and Bengali, in Kerala in Malayalam, in Tamil Nadu in Tamil, and in West Bengal in Bengali.

The interview duration across all States was about 35 minutes on average. While the interview targets were more or less achieved in Assam, Kerala and Tamil Nadu, in West Bengal, the total number of interviews fell short of the target due to challenges/slowdown in fieldwork on account of a surge in COVID-19 cases during the latter phases.

In order to ensure representativeness and correct for under-representation of key demographics, the achieved raw sample has been weighted by gender, religion, locality, and caste group based on Census 2011 data. The final data sets have also been weighted by the actual vote shares secured by the major parties and fronts that contested the elections in each State.

All analysis here has been presented on the weighted data sets.

Safety of investigators

In order to ensure the safety of the field investigators amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and also of those around them, field investigators were provided with masks and sanitisers for the fieldwork and it was ensured that the interviews were conducted following proper physical distancing and mask rules. Before going to the field, field investigators were made to sign an undertaking that they are not showing any of the COVID-19 symptoms and that they would take all the necessary precautions in the field.

In Assam, the survey was coordinated and supervised by Dhruba Pratim Sharma (Gauhati University) and Nurul Hassan (Kampur College, Nagaon).

In Kerala, it was conducted by Sajad Ibrahim, Kiran Raj and Abhishek P.S. (University of Kerala).

In Tamil Nadu, it was conducted by P. Ramajayam and D. Kirubanithi (Bharathidasan University, Tiruchirappalli), Gladston Xavier and Paul K. Nathan (Loyola College, Chennai), Benisha Catherin (Programme manager, Glo Foundation) and Mercy Pious (Independent development consultant).

In West Bengal, it was conducted by Suprio Basu (University of Kalyani) and Jyotiprasad Chatterjee (Barrackpore Rastraguru Surendranath College).

Sanjay Kumar of Lokniti-CSDS, Delhi directed the survey.

In Assam, the interviews were conducted in Assamese and Bengali, in Kerala in Malayalam, in Tamil Nadu in Tamil, and in West Bengal in Bengali.

Record GST inflows are heartening,but major risks lie ahead

India’s GST regime could not have hoped for a better start to its fifth year. Revenues from the tax hit an all-time high of Rs. 1,41,384 crore in April, surpassing the previous month’s record of about Rs. 1.24 lakh crore. After a disastrous period for the economy following last year’s national lockdown, GST revenues hit Rs. 1.05 lakh crore in October and have shown a steady uptick since then, in tandem with hopes of a sustained recovery. April’s numbers, which are essentially driven by the transactions in March, were bolstered by heightened economic activity, no doubt. The spectre of rising COVID-19 cases and the fear of an impending lockdown could also have driven people to make advance purchases in anticipation. Moreover, firms in the process of closing annual accounts may have remitted higher GST based on audit advice, while a gradual tightening of the compliance regime, and pro-active co-ordinated probes against taxpayers using fake bills to evade liabilities, have played no small part. In April 2020, GST collections had dipped to a mere Rs. 32,172 crore after all activity ground to a halt at four hours’ notice in late March. Economic activity may not yet be as badly affected amidst the pandemic’s second wave.

So far, going by the restrictions imposed in several States, supply chain disruptions are not expected to be as challenging. However, weakening demand will trigger a recalibration of production and investment plans, some of which has begun to kick in. Consider some indicators — major two-wheeler producers saw sales plummet by around a third in April, compared to March. Plant shutdowns have gradually begun to reduce inventory build-ups. In a report, ‘Wall of Worry’, Crisil has warned of several indicators sliding since mid-April, including GST e-way bills which fell by over 6%, two weeks in a row. Manufacturing orders’ growth hit an eight-month low in April, as per IHS Markit. And the pandemic surge and desperate shortage of health infrastructure have prompted industry leaders to pitch for a stringent lockdown. It would be foolhardy now to expect GST and other tax revenues to stay robust till the government gets a better grip on infections and vaccinations. With the Assembly polls over, the Centre must urgently convene the GST Council. To add to what is already pending — rationalisation of GST rate slabs, a rejig of rates on critical pandemic supplies and the prickly issue of bringing fuel under GST — the Council must begin gearing up early for shortfalls in GST compensation to States that may arise this year. India can ill-afford a repeat of the 2020 face-off between the Centre and States that almost upended the very spirit of co-operative federalism the GST emerged from.

North Korea’s economic worries and the U.S.’s nuclearisation concerns need addressing

President Joe Biden’s call for “stern deterrence” in response to North Korea’s nuclear programme and Pyongyang’s angry reaction, accusing the Biden administration of being “hostile”, suggest that both countries are headed towards a diplomatic showdown. In his first congressional address last week, Mr. Biden said the nuclear programmes of Iran and North Korea posed a “serious threat to America’s security and world security” and promised to respond through “diplomacy and stern deterrence”. His administration has also completed a review of the U.S.’s North Korea policy. Mr. Biden is likely to steer between Barack Obama’s “strategic patience” and Donald Trump’s top-level summitry in dealing with the North Korean nuclear challenge. North Korea has remained an unresolved foreign policy puzzle for all post-War American Presidents. In recent times, U.S. Presidents have shown a willingness to diplomatically engage with Pyongyang. The Clinton administration had signed a framework agreement with Pyongyang to halt its nuclear programme. Mr. Obama had initiated talks with North Korea in 2012, which collapsed after Pyongyang launched a satellite. He then adopted a wait-and-watch approach, which came to be called “strategic patience”. Mr. Trump altered his predecessor’s North Korea policy by reaching out to the regime and meeting its leader, Kim Jong-un, thrice, but without a breakthrough.

In theory, the Trump administration and North Korea had agreed to a complete de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, but failed to agree on its formula. In the 2019 Trump-Kim summit at Hanoi, the U.S. proposed removal of sanctions for de-nuclearisation, but North Korea rejected it. Pyongyang had taken a phased approach and sought sanctions removal in return. Ever since, there has been no improvement in ties. After Mr. Biden assumed office, North Korea had conducted short-range missile tests, which the U.S. saw as a provocation. Mr. Biden does not have many good options in dealing with North Korea. The U.S.’s key goal in northeastern Asia is the de-nuclearisation of the Korean peninsula. And the only practical way to achieve this is through diplomacy as a military strike on North Korea, a nuclear power, is out of the question. Though the Trump-Kim summits did not lead to any breakthrough, they have still created a diplomatic momentum for engagement. Despite its threats to expand its nuclear programme, North Korea sticks to the self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range ballistic missile tests. The North, as acknowledged by Mr. Kim recently, is going through a tough economic crisis and is open to talks. Mr. Biden should seize this opportunity and try to reach common ground with Mr. Kim that addresses both North Korea’s economic worries and the U.S.’s nuclear concerns. That should be the focus of the Biden administration’s new North Korean strategy.