Daily Update: June 6–North Korean Missile Launch

Early in the morning of June 8, North Korea launched a salvo of missiles from Wonson, off its Eastern Coast (The Korea Page). Pyongyang has constantly evoked such strategies to find a course of action which ensures technological advancement with minimal retaliatory actions from the international community. So what do we know about North Korea’s latest missile launch and how has the political situation moved since?

North Korea fired off several anti-ship cruise missiles from its east coast, all of which flew about 200km (Joongang Daily). The tests showcase North Korea’s technological capabilities in light of sanctions ostensibly limiting the cash and technology required for continued testing. The missiles were fired in the direction of the East Sea (Yonhap). President Moon conviened the Security Council in the hours following the test.

Domestically, motivations for the launch can be difficult to parse. The two most likely scenarios are 1) North Korea is protesting the recent protest of THAAD in Korea and new rounds of sanctions by the UNSC or 2) that North Korea is still trying to attempt to push the envelope to see what it can get away with. As of writing, North Korea has yet to release any communication regarding the test.

International responses to the test have been minimal with several leaders not yet responding to the test of writing. American Missile Defense Agency chief, Vice Admiral James Syring, showed concern on the North Korea issue, saying that America is not comfortably ahead of the issue (Yonhap). President Trump has yet to respond.

The test brings the political parlay over THAAD deployment right back to the forefront. Moon Jae-in, a long time THAAD opponent, has vehemently opposed the deployment since being elected. He has called it a hasty maneuver meant to be a fait accompli and accused the Defense Ministry of foregoing required environmental tests before the system became operational (NY Times). An aid to Moon said, “we are skeptical if the deployment was really urgent enough to pass over transparency and procedures required by law,” in a statement which highlighted the Blue House’s push to implement a long environmental survey despite the long time required to complete the test (Joongang Daily). The Barun and Liberty Korea Parties–the two main conservative parties–both released statements calling for the urgent deployment of THAAD (Yonhap). In light of today’s test, THAAD will remain a contentious issue which the Blue House is likely to stall as long as humanly possible.

The other item under scrutiny from North Korea is the recently adopted UNSCR 2356 which froze the travel of 14 individuals and the assets of 4 companies (UNSCR 2356). In an editorial in the state-run Rodong Shinmun, North Korea said the international community is “pressing this panic button,” and “desperate in their vicious attempts to put sanctions and pressure to bear upon against the DPRK” (Rodong Shinmun). North Korea has a storied history of opposing sanctions policy, citing, as in the above editoral, the size of America’s nuclear arsenal and military as evidence of the need for continued pursuit of nuclear weapons. “Whatever sanctions and pressure may follow, we will not flinch from the road to build up nuclear forces … and will move forward towards the final victory,” the Rodong team writes (Rodong Shinmun).[1]

As it stands, North Korea’s exact motivation is unknown, though based on the media attention towards sanctions policy, it is easily possible that today’s test was a protest of recent sanctions.

In South Korea, the test is winding through the typical process: Defense Ministry alerts the president/press, the Security Council is called to meet, and the press covers the updates as they come in. International leaders have remained quite, choosing to focus their attentions elsewhere for the time being.

Notes

[1] Rodong Shinmun is a state-run media outlet in North Korea is cited here to provide a North Korean mindset on recent sanctions policy. Any statement of fact or opinion in Rodong Shinmun must be read with proper context and attention to detail.

Daily Update–June 5

After a brief break, including several changes in my life and a few uncontrollable happenings, I am glad to say that Daily Updates are back and I am going to start working on a longer analysis post to get up in the ensuing weeks. But without further ado, here is today’s Daily Update:

South Korea

Politics– Since taking office on May 9, President Moon Jae-in has stayed fairly busy. Three days into his term, Moon reversed one of Park’s signature policies: the introduction of state-authored history textbooks. On May 12, Moon ordered the textbooks to be scrapped (NY Times). On Tuesday, Moon continued his push for the lesser known by promising to reevaluate the history of Korea and search for people who made the country great (Korea Herald). This comes as his approval ratings fell for the first time on Monday following issues regarding his high ministerial appointments and issues befalling the investigation into THAAD deployment (Korea Times). Moon faces several challenges ahead, the most pressing being establishing a good reputation with the new Trump administration which has constantly argued for policies counter to those of Moon.

The National Assembly is set to take up the possibility of having family reunions of those split by the Korean War on August 15, Korean Liberation Day. Following a meeting with Chung Sye-kyun, South Korea’s National Assembly Speaker, and party leaders, Kang Hoon-shik, leader of the Democratic Party, said: “We’ve agreed to issue a resolution to push for a family reunion on Aug. 15” (Korea Times). This would be the first of such reunions since October 2015 when they were stopped following North Korean provocations.

Economy–The middle class in South Korea slipped about a percent to 65.7% in 2016 from the previous year the Finance Ministry said on Tuesday. The shrink is due to a widening of income disparity between the rich and poor despite government efforts to quell the issue (Yonhap). Last year, South Korea’s total income distribution rose to 9.32, meaning that those in the top 20 percent income bracket had about 9 times what those in the bottom 20 percent bracket did. The disposable income rose on year in 2016 as well, though not as sharply (Yonhap).

Culture–South Korea has launched a bus tour aimed at introducing foreigners to attractions outside of Seoul (Korea Times). The bus will take foreigners to one of five regions–the southeastern city of Daegu, Ganghwa Island in Incheon near Seoul, the northeastern province of Gangwon, the southwestern province of South Jeolla and the southeastern province of North Gyeongsang–for tours. There are plans to extend the coverage of the buses in 2019 with more stops (Yonhap).

North Korea

News–North Korea has rejected aid from a South Korean civic organisation in light of South Korea’s recent support of UN sanctions resolutions. After North Korea declared its openness to some inter-Korean exchanges, the Korean Sharing prepared to send pesticides and medical supplies to fight malaria in North Korea (Korea Times). However, Kang Yong-shik announced on Tuesday that the group would be putting off its shipment and vists, saying that Pyongyang took issue with South Korean support of recent UN sanctions (Korea Times; Yonhap). This rebuttal highlights tensions on the peninsula.

Leadership Watch–Kim has had a busy introduction into the month of June. On May 30, Kim Jung-un attended the test of the missile. According to state media, the test “verified the flight stability of ballistic rocket loaded with fin-controlled warhead in the active flying section and reconfirmed the accuracy of velocity correction and attitude stabilisation system by a small heat jet engine in middle flying section” (KCNA). A few days later, Kim visited the Kangso Mineral Water facility. During his tour of the facility, Kim discussed how the factory was a make of the Kim Il-sung and Kim Jung-il eras, reminiscing about how the factory was remodelled under their guidance during the Arduous March (KCNA). Finally, on June 5, Kim attended a combat flight contest among officers of the North Korea Air and Anti-Air Force. After ordering the men to conduct a sortie, Kim went to the observation tower to observe the contest, knowing the men would show militant spirit. After the competition, Kim gave guidance on how the Air and Anti-Force could round off preparations for combat (KCNA). With these recent actions, Kim has continued pushing his two themed advancement strategy: military and economic.[1]

Notes

[1] Sources are from North Korean state media and should be read in context with other sources to provide a fuller, more insightful picture of Kim’s actions in North Korea.

Breaking News: North Korea Tests a Missile

North Korea launched a missile about an hour ago, adding pressure to an already volitile situation on the peninsula. Yonhap is reporting that the projectile–it is currently unknown what type of missile was launched–flew 700 kilometers (Yonhap). The missile was launched near the city of Kusong.

South Korea’s newly minted president Moon Jae-in convened an emergency meeting of the security council following the launch. The military also released a statement saying it “is closely monitoring for proactive movements by North Korea and maintaining all readiness postures” (CNN). This response is typical for South Korea following a launch.

In terms of motivation, the launch is most likely a test of the Trump-Moon dynamic. President Trump has favored a more militaristic and tough approach while Moon favors engagement to denuclearize Pyongyang. This also ensures North Korea is issue number one in the alliance, possibly straining the relationship because of the different approaches.

North Korea also has been politically active.  On May 13, North Korea called for the UN to reconsider sanctions against the country (Yonhap).

Breaking News: North Korea Missile Test

North Korea conducted a missile test on Saturday, taking off from Pukchang, South Korean media reported. The missile, supposedly a Pukguksong scud, is the same missile which was tested on the 16th, and was the second failed test this month (Yonhap*).

The test comes as saber rattling has made he situation tense. In past week, THAAD made its way to Seongju, Trump called on Korea to pay $1 billion for the system and said withdrawal from the KORUS FTA is a possibility, North Korea released a cryptic propaganda video, and, earlier today, Rex Tillerson reiterated that all options are on the table but a diplomatic solution is favorable. Korea is also in the throngs of a election cycle which may drastically shift the political leanings of the Blue House.

So far their is no statements regarding the missile test. The UN is likely to condemn the test, as Trump will. Other nations will likely join in the condemnation. China is likely to continue a push for restraint while attempting to coax Pyongyang to give up its missile and nuclear programs.

Daily Update–April 7

South Korea

Politics–The Democratic Party is going to look into suspected irregularities in the People’s Party primaries. On April 4, Ahn Cheol-soo clinched the parties nomination, securing 75% of the overall vote (Korea Times). However, the People’s Party is mired in controversy over how it conducted business for its Gwangju and Busan primaries, for which Democratic Party Chairwoman Choi Min-ae has said that the irregularities will be dealt with in an appropriate manner (Yonhap). The investigation comes as presidential hopefuls hit the campaign trail in the run-up to May’s election (KBS World).

Economy–The Bank of Korea noted that household debt has grown while disposable income has stagnated in Korea over the las five years. In a report to the National Assembly, the bank reported a debt to disposable income ratio of 169%, well over the OECD average of 129% (Korea Times). Korea, up to 2015, has seen its ratio rise while other nations, such as the United States and Germany saw ratio drops in that same time period. Debt has long been an issue in South Korea, and recently the National Assembly has heard several reports on household debt.

North Korea

North Korea will be the topic of discussion at the Xi-Trump meeting at Mar-a-Lago this week. During their two-day summit, Xi and Trump agreed to increase cooperation in order to push Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear program (Yonhap). Enhanced cooperation between China and America on North Korea can lead to more moves similar to China cutting off coal imports. However, the extent of enhanced cooperation has yet to be determined and Rex Tillerson, American Secretary of State, said no package agreement had been reached (Yonhap). And with Trump’s recent brief of options for North Korea–see below–China may be more reluctant to support a more militaristic solution.

North Korea was also making waves in other meetings. The United Nations Security Council adopted a resolution today condemning the recent North Korean missile launch (Nikki Asian Review). In a press statement, the UNSC reiterated “the need to maintain peace and stability on the Korean peninsula” (UNSC Press Release, April 6). The European Union went a step further. A day after the most recent missile launch, the EU expanded its sanctions on North Korea by expanding the industries in which Europeans are barred from engaging in. The new sanctions also prohibited computer services to North Korean people or entities (KBS World). Despite these measures representing an expanded approach, they are by no means going to shift the status-quo.

And finally, after a recent chemical weapons attack in Syria, North Korea sent a message to Bassar al-Assad celebrating 70 years since the creation of the ruling Ba’ath Party (Yonhap). In his message, Kim extolled the Ba’ath Party’s role in the revolution, saying, “Today the Party is resolutely struggling to courageously shatter the vicious challenge and aggressive moves of the hostile forces at home and abroad and defend the country’s sovereignty and territorial integrity under the leadership of Bashar Al-Assad” (Rodung Shinmun). The move highlights the cooperation between Syria and North Korea. North Korea is suspected of building a nuclear reactor in Syria which the Israeli Airforce destroyed in 2007. Syria and North Korea also have a long history of diplomatic and militaristic engagement (Bechtol p. 280)[1].

President Trump has detailed options for solving the North Korean issue, of which many options require military solutions to varying degrees. The assessment presented to the president included three main courses of action. The first was rebasing nuclear weapons in South Korea. The second includes decapitation of the Kim regime–killing off the senior officials and Kim Jong-un in hopes a new regime would manifest itself. And the final solution included using special forces, such as South Korea’s Spartan 3000, to covertly eliminate North Korean missile and nuclear sites (NBC News). These options have support and dissent in Washington and Seoul. With North Korea’s continued provocations, however, the approval rating of militaristic actions is continuing to rise.

Notes:

[1] Bechtol, Bruce, “North Korea and Syria: Partners in Destruction,” Korean Journal of Defense Analysis vol. 27 no. 3, September 2015, pp. 277-292.

[2] Due to amount of North Korea stories on today’s update, there is no Culture update for South Korea.

Update: North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile into the Sea

north-korean-missiles(Image: A comparison of North Korea’s missiles and their ranges. Though not much is known of the KN-15, it is estimated to have a range of 1500 to 2000km, roughly the same as teh No-dong missile system. Source: CSIS Missile Threat)

North Korea is acting out only a day before President Trump meets at his Mar-a-Lago Resort with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping. Early on Wednesday morning, an unknown projectile was fired into the East Sea from Sinpo, North Hamgyeong Province (Yonhap). A few moments later, the Joint Chiefs of Staff in South Korea confirmed that North Korea had indeed tested a missile, though refused to specify what the projectile was; it was merely reported that the projectile was not a piece of artillery (Yonhap).Overall, the test

Overall, the test appears to be a failure, as the missile did not fly for very long. After being launched at 6:42am, the missile was tracked until 6:51am. It reached a maximum altitude of 183km and flew around 60km before splashing down in the East Sea (Yonhap; Korea Times). The missile was later identified as the KN-15–also known as the Pukguksong-2–a nuclear capable, land-based variant of the KN-14 SLBM. Unlike previous KN-15 tests, however, this test was a missile powered by liquid fuel not solid (Chicago Tribune). However the international community spins the test, North Korea will have gained some valuable information to develop yet another missile to operability, making it more difficult to counter.

Responses to the test have been, for lack of better word, curious. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson released a statement which read, “North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment” (Secretary of State’s Remarks). Ahn Cheol-soo, a contender in the 2017 South Korean presidential race responded by highlighting the importance of national security in South Korea (Chosun Ilbo*). So far, President Trump and other world leaders have yet to respond to the test.

Politically, the test will intensify the political parlay over North Korea between President Trump and Xi Jinping during their meeting. Trump has long advocated for a larger Chinese role in solving the North Korean issue, saying in a recent interview with the Financial Times that “China will either help us, or they won’t” (Financial Times). Trump has also accused China of not using its economic leverage to perturb Pyongyang into abandoning their programs. Economically, China accounts for the majority North Korean trade, and several Chinese companies have conducted business to the tune of $8 million with North Korea (Chosun Ilbo).

China, despite strong economic ties with North Korea, has been making moves to comply with United Nations Security Council Resolutions, including the suspension of North Korean coal imports for 2017. Many saw this move as placing the ball in America’s hands (The Economist). Wednesday’s test will heighten the tensions between Xi and Trump ahead of their Flordia meeting. Other items most likely to be covered will most likely include THAAD deployment on the Korean Peninsula. THAAD is yet another issue which will be even more contentious following this test.

North Korea is behaving like a neglected child, constantly stirring trouble in order to steal the spotlight. Wednesday’s test offered the reclusive regime a way to ensure it would be at the top of the agenda for Trump and Xi.

Corrections:

April 10: Updated information of the test parameters, detailing the use of liquid fuel in the second paragraph. Added an additional source in paragraph 2.

Breaking News: Malaysia Expells North Korean Ambassador

(Image: Ri Jong-chol leaving a Sepang Police Station. Source: MalayMail)

The international parlay between Malaysia and North Korea in the wake of the Kim Jung-nam assassination continues to develop. Malaysia has expelled North Korean ambassador Kang Chol (YonhapNews*). Malaysian authorities also released Ri Jong-chol, a North Korean questioned in connection with the murder of Kim Jong-nam. According to reports, the Ri drove four North Korean men to the Kuala Lumpur Airport on the day of the murder. But since then, all four have returned to North Korea (Radio Free Asia).  Without the connection of those four suspects, authorities have been unable to press charges against Ri. The N called his arrest a plot to damage the honor of his country (BBC).  He was transported to a Malaysian airport wearing a bulletproof vest. Ri called his arrest a conspiracy to damage the honor of North Korea (Reuters).

North Korea, yesterday, responded to the allegations of assassination.  Pyongyang’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Ri Tong-il said Kim Jung-nam had a record of heart disease and that he died of a heart attack (Radio Free Asia). Even early into the investigation, North Korea rebutted Malaysian authorities, saying their findings where full of holes and contradictions, while shifting blame to Malaysia, saying “The biggest responsibility for his death rests with the government of Malaysia as the citizen of the DPRK died in its land,” in a statement (TIME).

Malaysia has yet to formally blame North Korea for the murder. However, Malaysia ceased its visa waver program with Pyongyang.

Kim Jong-nam died on February 13, after being attacked in Kuala Lumpur International Airport, while being transferred to the hospital. A Malaysian-led autopsy revealed he had been poisoned with VX nerve agent, a chemical weapon listed as a weapon of mass destruction by the United Nations. The two women responsible for the attack have been charged with murder and may face the death penalty, if found guilty (CNN).

Correction March 6, 2017: This first reported Ri Jong-chol as the North Korean ambassador, though he was simply a North Korean citizen. Kang Chol was the North Korean ambassador to Malaysia before his expulsion in the aftermath of the Kim Jong-nam assassination. Also fixed spelling of Malaysia throughout the article.