Don’t underestimate PyongyangAs if scoffing at the international community, which warned of any further military provocations, North Korea launched yet another ballistic missile on Sunday. The launch was conducted only nine hours before U.S. Vice President Mike Pence arrived on his first trip to South Korea. It was the fifth missile test this year and the second missile test this month alone. Though the test ended in failure, as the missile exploded right after its launch, North Korea carried out the missile test in spite of U.S. and Chinese protests.
Deploying the USS Carl Vison Carrier Strike Group to the Korean Peninsula, the U.S. government warned that North Korea would pay an outrageous price if it conducts a sixth nuclear test or additional launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles. In addition, China also applied pressure to make North Korea behave prudently. China sent back North Korean cargo ships loaded with coal and then on Friday China’s flagship carrier, Air China, halted its regular flights between Pyongyang and Beijing. U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping discussed North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats in their first summit meeting on April 6 and 7. China then began to impose sanctions against North Korea.
As if North Korea was conscious of the strong posture of these two nations, it did not dare to conduct the sixth nuclear test or launch an ICBM. North Korea might recognize that those actions would cross the red line and bring about a U.S. strike.
Nevertheless, we should not dismiss this missile launch as merely a move to attract attention. High-tech weapons, like missiles, need to undergo several rounds of stabilization before they become militarily meaningful strategic assets. Military experts suspect that the missile might be an ICBM or an SLBM, though it was not clearly identified yet.
Extra large missiles, apparently some new types of ICBM, were unveiled in the military parade in Pyongyang to mark the 105th birthday of North Korea founder, Kim Il Sung. Though many watchers say that the missiles are just uncompleted mockups, we cannot dismiss the possibility that they are real. In the past, North Korea showed off mock-up missiles and then later succeeded in test-firing real ones on several occasions.
It is said that the Trump administration adopted “maximum pressure and engagement” as its North Korea policy. It is such a relief that the United States has decided to use a maximum pressure strategy instead of a preemptive strike, which spawned rumors that war will break out in April. Needless to say, South Korea should impose strong pressure on North Korea in order for the new U.S. strategy to take effect. Also, China should impose tight sanctions against North Korea for the sake of peace in Northeast Asia.
JoongAng Ilbo, April 17, Page 30