North stays quiet for political event

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North stays quiet for political event

North Korea remained quiet on its 71st anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party on Monday, opting not to conduct a test-firing of a missile or a sixth nuclear test. The absence of such activity betrayed prior speculations that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un would use military provocations to commemorate the important national holiday that fell on Monday.

Pyongyang has a history of staging military provocations in time with political anniversaries. It conducted its first nuclear test on the eve of the Workers’ Party’s foundation anniversary in 2006, and this year marks the 10th anniversary of its first nuclear test, fueling speculations that the young ruler was preparing a shocking event.

But not only did the North decide not to provoke militarily, few media reports from Pyongyang have been made as of press time Monday on events related to the anniversary. Only the state-run Rodong Sinmun carried a commentary on Monday in which it called on the people to follow Kim’s leadership with unwavering loyalty under a one-man rule on the occasion of the anniversary. It quoted Kim as saying, “the world will see how the Workers’ Party will build up a powerful nation.”

In contrast to the placid mood observed this year, Pyongyang put on a number of large events on last Oct. 10, which marked the 70th founding anniversary of the party.

Kim oversaw a military parade that featured the North’s weaponry arsenals, tanks and fighter jets at the heart of the capital city in the afternoon on the anniversary last year after visiting the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun to honor his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, and father, Kim Jong-il, whose bodies are preserved there. For this year’s anniversary, however, the North Korean leadership probably sensed additional provocations would compel China to approve ever-tougher UN sanctions.

Jeong Joon-hee, spokesman of the Unification Ministry that handles inter-Korea relations in Seoul, said the North usually puts on a large celebration for the party’s founding anniversary every five years. “This year’s anniversary does not bear much significance in meaning (as opposed to last year’s),” said Jeong during a press briefing Monday, but he cautioned that the North was “ready to conduct a nuclear test or a missile launch at any given time.”

Recent reports of satellite imagery on the North’s missile launch site added to speculations that the North was on its way to test-firing its medium to long-range missile across the East Sea. The North claims its missile launches are intended for its space satellite program, a claim seen by the international community as a cover for its long-range missile program.

The website 38 North, run by the U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies, said Saturday that activities were seen at the Dongchang-ri missile launch site. Based on satellite imagery taken on Oct. 1, analysts at 38 North determined that a structure was built at the site and the North was hiding activities underneath.

While the North opted not to stage military provocations, it remains to be seen whether it will do so for the remainder of the year, while the UN Security Council is scrambling to come up with a new resolution to impose tougher sanctions on the North following its latest nuclear test on Sept. 9. The U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, Samantha Power, remarked during her visit to Seoul Sunday that Washington would seek all feasible means against Pyongyang via international sanctions and close loopholes that Pyongyang was taking advantage of under the current sanction regimen.

The absence of military activity on Monday came as the allied force of the United States and South Korea was in the midst of their joint naval exercises underway in three bodies of sea waters surrounding South Korea.

The two allies kicked off the joint exercise, known as Invincible Spirit, on Monday, which is due to run through Saturday. For the exercise, the United States sent its nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan alongside six other naval destroyers.

About 40 warships from the South Korean Navy, including its Sejong the Great Aegis destroyer, are participating in the six-day drill. P-3 and P-8 maritime patrol aircraft, Apache helicopters and submarines from the allies are also taking part.

The South Korean Navy said in a statement that the joint drill was to reaffirm the commitment of the two allies to sternly respond to any forms of military provocation and improve the allies’ military readiness for such events.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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