Pyongyang hopes for bargaining chip in US talks with missile test: expert

By Yang Sheng Source:Global Times Published: 2017/2/13 0:03:39

A man watches the news showing file video of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a railway station in Seoul on Sunday. North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Sunday in an apparent provocation to test the response of new US President Donald Trump, the South Korean defense ministry said. Photo: AFP

A man watches the news showing file video of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un at a railway station in Seoul on Sunday. North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Sunday in an apparent provocation to test the response of new US President Donald Trump, the South Korean defense ministry said. Photo: AFP

North Korea conducted a ballistic missile test on Sunday, the first since US President Donald Trump took office last month, a move experts said showed that North Korea wants to gain bargaining power by displaying strength, but that it would only elicit a tougher response from the US and South Korea.

Pyongyang tested what is presumed to be an intermediate-range Musudan ballistic missile, called Hwaseong-10, from its northwestern North Pyongan province earlier in the day, the Xinhua News Agency reported.

It traveled about 500 kilometers and landed in waters off North Korea's east coast. Musudan can reach Japan and Guam, as it is known to have a range of between 3,000-4,000 kilometers.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un announced in his New Year address last month that his country has "entered the final stage of preparations for the test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile [ICBM]."

However, Yang Chengjun, a senior military strategist of missile studies from the PLA Rocket Force, told the Global Times that Sunday's launch was not of an ICBM due to its short range.

"ICBMs normally reached at least 8,000 kilometers, and Pyongyang claimed it was an ICBM to attract US attention and seek negotiations with Trump," Yang said, adding that only ICBMs could reach US territory, which could give Pyongyang bargaining power.

The Musudan test-launch may help in advancing North Korea's ICBM technology, considering that the propellant of its three-stage ICBM is believed to be composed of four Musudan missile engines, Song Zhongping, a Hong Kong-based military expert who used to serve in the PLA Rocket Force, told the Global Times on Sunday.

So far, North Korea has never successfully tested an ICBM. Under the UN resolution, Pyongyang is banned from testing any ballistic missile technology. 

Tough response

US and South Korea remain concerned over the potential success of a North Korean ICBM test, as the two North Korea mobile launchers carrying ICBMs were reportedly detected by South Korean and US intelligence, Xinhua reported on Sunday.

The South Korean foreign ministry said in a statement on Sunday that the missile test is a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions and a serious threat to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula and the world.

The statement said repeated North Korean provocations are a direct challenge to the international community's concerted will reflected in Resolution 2321, unanimously adopted by the UN Security Council.

Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe issued a joint statement at a news conference on Sunday. After Abe said that "North Korea's most recent missile launch is absolutely intolerable. North Korea must fully comply with the relevant UN Security Council resolutions," Trump announced the US "stands behind Japan," Reuters reported.

Sunday's launch is the first for 2017 and the first since Trump was sworn in as US president last month.

Instead of engaging in diplomacy with Kim, Trump sent his Defense Secretary James Mattis to South Korea to reinforce the US-South Korean alliance, and criticize North Korea on his Japan visit, Lü Chao, a research fellow at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

Lü said Trump's moves have defied North Korea's expectations of him, who considered him more pragmatic and flexible than Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton.

"North Korea felt that it has to do something to attract attention," Lü said.

Hastening arms race

Although the Sunday launch was not that of an ICBM, it still gives Trump an excuse to take a tougher stand against North Korea, Wang Junsheng, a research fellow on East Asian studies at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, told the Global Times.

Song said the deployment of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system would hasten an arms race, and would have an impact on China's national security as well as every other nation in the region.

"North Korea's action is very unwise since it will not deter the US or force it to immediately engage with the North Korean side, but will elicit a tougher military response from the US and South Korea," said Wang.

Wang noted that joint US-South Korea military drills, which will start in March, with one of its purposes to launch a "decapitation strike" against North Korea's top leadership. "North Korea's test and the joint US-South Korean drills are creating a vicious circle on the Peninsula's security," Wang added.



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