Dark clouds gathering

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Dark clouds gathering

Dark clouds are gathering over the Korean Peninsula. North Korea once again fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile into the East Sea yesterday after wrapping up preparations for its sixth nuclear test. The North’s action came just a day before the first summit between Chinese President Xi Jinping and U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday and Friday in Florida. U.S. intelligence authorities identified the missile as a Bukguksong-2 (KN-15) missile, a variation of an SLBM remodeled for ground launch.

The launch appeared to be successful although it flew only 60 kilometers (37 miles) from the east cost after shooting up to an altitude of 189 kilometers. The missile, with a maximum range of 3,500 kilometers, could strike the U.S. Marine base in Okinawa and the Air Force base in Guam, where B-2 stealth bombers and B-52 strategic bombers are deployed.

The North’s missile test seems to be aimed at sounding out Washington and Beijing before conducting its sixth nuclear test, because its destiny may be determined at the U.S.-China summit.

Heightened tension is felt in America, too. At a White House meeting with CEOs of major U.S. companies, Trump said he would discuss the North Korean nuclear threat at the summit after defining it as a “humanity problem.” U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s remarks carry greater significance. After the missile launch, he said he had nothing to add as he said enough already.

The U.S. Pacific Command confirmed the type of missile immediately, suggesting U.S. military authorities’ hypersensitivity. Gen. John Hyten, commander of the U.S. Strategic Command, testified before the Senate Armed Services Committee on Tuesday that North Korea has nearly reached the critical phase of loading warheads onto ICBMs. On the same day in Seoul, Adm. Scott Swift, U.S. Pacific Command commander, expressed concerns about the North’s ever-deepening nuclear threat to the security of the region and the rest of the world.

And yet our presidential candidates are not describing how they would tackle the challenge except Democratic Party candidate Moon Jae-in, who nonchalantly said, “I will go to North Korea ahead of America if I am elected president.” Yesterday, he stepped back and said, “Once the North provokes, it has crossed the point of no return.”

Other candidates are still wasting time bickering over the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system. Will they stick to a peripheral issue in the face of such danger?

JoongAng Ilbo, April 6, Page 30
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