North Korea is heavily consumed with a fierce “80-day battle”—a national productivity campaign that began in October during which North Koreans are required to work extra hours to achieve national and economic goals before a rare Workers’ Party congress set for next January. These “battles” are also meant to firmly consolidate domestic unity around the Kim dynasty. State media say their priority this time is typhoon recovery, anti-coronavirus campaigns, farming, coal mining, and scientific research without outside help over fears of viral infections. This means that Pyongyang may wait until after the regime cements next year’s goals during its January party congress. If so, the window for a provocation would be between January and March, when President Biden’s team is not yet complete after inauguration and before the US and South Korea hold their annual spring military drills.
That is the same period during which Pyongyang has tested missiles or nuclear devices in the past after a change in American administrations. The possibility cannot be ruled out that the regime may even wait until it assesses an incoming Biden administration’s attitude toward it. But Pyongyang may not wait—candidate Biden personally called Kim a “thug” (although Pyongyang previously called Biden a “rabid dog” and “fool of low IQ”), which could be enough justification to provoke Washington, especially when Kim’s sister in July expanded the scope of “US hostile policy” to include rhetoric (insults) and human rights criticisms.