North Korea held a large-scale military parade at the main square in Pyongyang on April 15 to commemorate the 105th anniversary of the birth of the nation’s late founder Kim Il-sung. During the parade, the North unveiled an array of strategic weapons, including what appeared to be a new type of intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, a submarine-launched ballistic missile, or SLBM, and an intermediate-range ballistic missile, which is an upgraded version of an SLBM. But Scud or Rodong-class missiles, which had frequently appeared during previous military parades, were not shown at this year’s event. Some had predicted that North Korea could make armed provocations to mark the occasion, but this year’s anniversary seems to have focused on showing off the nation’s military power. Here’s Professor Kim Yong-hyun from the North Korean Studies Department at Dongguk University.
This year, North Korea revealed a few important missiles, apparently with the U.S. in mind. It showed a truck carrying a missile-shaped tube. What was inside was not revealed, but the tube indicates it was an ICBM. North Korea was indirectly demonstrating that it was capable of developing an ICBM, obviously being very conscious of the Trump administration. North Korea focused more on weapons that would draw attention from the U.S. and the international community than on those targeting South Korea.
The following day, on April 16, North Korea fired a ballistic missile from Sinpo, South Hamgyeong Province on the east coast. The missile exploded right after the launch. The missile launch is viewed as Pyongyang’s show of force, timed with U.S. Vice President Mike Pence’s visit to South Korea.
North Korea attempted to show its progress in developing ICBM missiles, but the recent missile launch ended in failure. Timed with Pence’s visit to South Korea, the launch sends a message that the Kim Jong-un regime would not be discouraged by the U.S. vice president’s presence in South Korea. I think North Korea is seeking to constantly demonstrate its ability to develop an ICBM, and to maintain tense relations with the international community.
Pence arrived in South Korea on April 16 for the first leg of his four-nation Asia-Pacific tour. It was his first visit to South Korea since taking office. Pence was also the first U.S. vice president to visit Seoul in four years, after former Vice President Joe Biden in 2013. Pence’s South Korea trip came amid escalating tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, following the U.S.-China summit.
Pence’s Seoul visit merits attention in two aspects. First, the rare visit by a U.S. vice president shows that Washington is concerned about North Korea’s nuclear program and that it wants to prevent Pyongyang’s sixth nuclear test. Second, Pence’s Asia-Pacific trip also takes him to Japan, Indonesia and Australia. In other words, he is not visiting China this time. It reflects that the Trump government is pressuring China to deal with North Korea more proactively.
In South Korea, Pence said that the era of strategic patience was over, reiterating the Trump administration’s stern stance towards North Korea. That is to say, the U.S. was sending a strong warning message to North Korea by stressing once again that it would not sit idle over the North Korean nuclear problem. In a joint press conference after a meeting with South Korea’s Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn on April 17, Pence mentioned the recent U.S. missile strike on Syria and warned North Korea of the strong military measures it may face if it refuses to stop its nuclear program. He also said that North Korea would do well not to test Trump’s resolve. Overall, the vice president’s remarks indicate the U.S. is going to put more pressure on North Korea. Meanwhile, on April 16, Hong Kong’s South China Morning Post reported that major travel agencies in China, including the state-owned China International Travel Services, have cancelled travel packages to North Korea. Air China, which has flown passengers to North Korea since 2008, also temporarily suspended flights between Beijing and Pyongyang, starting from April 17. Chinese state-run media outlets have warned that if North Korea goes ahead with its sixth nuclear test despite objections from the international community, China would support U.N. Security Council’s new sanctions against the North, including suspension of oil supplies. Experts are saying that China has begun pressuring North Korea in earnest.
China’s latest move could be an answer to the Trump administration, which says that if China is lukewarm about dealing with North Korea, the U.S. will take action on its own. Trump continues to ask China to play its role in eliciting a change from North Korea through engagement. China seems to be using shock tactics, such as Air China’s decision to halt flights to North Korea. With indirect discussions of suspending oil supplies to North Korea underway, China appears to be taking a different path than it did in the past to discourage the North from conducting a sixth nuclear test.
In the meantime, Susan Thornton, U.S. acting assistant secretary of state for East Asian and Pacific affairs, told reporters in a telephone conference that the Donald Trump administration finalized its North Korea policy that would focus on “maximum pressure and engagement.” As the U.S. government has adopted this as its new North Korea policy, attention turns to how North Korea may act in the future.
North Korea will likely continue its confrontational posture for the time being because it believes that if it backs down in the early period of the Trump government, it will have to yield in the future. I imagine neither North Korea nor the U.S. will move an inch over their positions for some time. For now, the key issue is whether or not North Korea will push ahead with a sixth nuclear test. If the North actually conducts the test, the aftermath will certainly be massive. So, the country may refrain from the nuclear test for now but resort to an intermediate-range missile launch or low-intensity provocations near the military demarcation line or the de facto maritime inter-Korean border of the Northern Limit Line. Before taking any action, Pyongyang will watch how Washington’s position may evolve in phases.
Chief nuclear envoys from South Korea, the U.S., and Japan will soon meet in Japan to discuss ways to denuclearize North Korea. We’ll have to wait and see whether and how they will come up with specific measures to implement Washington’s new policy of “maximum pressure and engagement.”
[Interview] Information-sharing Community for N. Korean Defectors
Next, we’ll introduce you to an information-sharing community for defectors from North Korea. It is called “Woori On,” and here’s Park Dae-hyun, head of the community, to tell us more about this special website.
Woori means “we,” and the word implies that people in South and North Korea became “woori.” Inspired by the expression “turn the light on,” the name “Woori On” means that we get together and shine brightly.
Park escaped from North Korea in 2006. He was good with computers, so he was able to get information about scholarships and employment easily here in the South. But many of his friends and colleagues couldn’t enjoy various benefits due to a lack of information. Feeling frustrated with the situation, Park created this website with his friends in August 2015. Woori On gathers extensive information about support programs related to medical treatment, employment, and housing posted on Internet homepages of some 40 institutions, and provides the collected information to North Korean defectors. To allow easy access to the information, it actively uses social networking services. Let’s hear from website manager Kim Su-ji.
There is plenty of useful information for students, such as affordable language training programs in Canada or Australia, and free English classes offered by local institutes here. Mothers can learn about government subsidies for childcare. Many North Korean expats do not know about these programs, and after discovering that, they are happy to use them. My mother runs a convenience store, and she found that the Korea Hana Foundation offers a program to help self-employed people receive various tax breaks. When we post new information, users are notified of it right away. They might be small benefits, but my mother likes them very much.
The useful information provided by Woori On received an explosive response from the members. Although the service was created less than two years ago, it has as many as 6,000 members now. Park says he feels tired from time to time but gains strength from the members’ warm messages.
There were so many text messages saying “thank you for the helpful information” that I counted how many messages I got. There were a total of 721 messages. That night, I couldn’t sleep. I was excited that I had received encouraging messages from more than 700 fellow North Korean expats in just one year. I was sure that we took the right path. I was very happy.
As the number of members has been on the rise, more of them have been using their skills to help others. For instance, a North Korean defector teaches rice craft, while a woman makes food and gives it to young defectors while thinking of her son she left behind in North Korea. Woori On staff say that their work is rewarding when they see North Korean defectors, who experienced capitalism for the first time in South Korea, eager to share what they have with others.
A member sent us some clothes that her children had outgrown. We uploaded photos of the clothes online, which drew an enthusiastic response. Those who received the clothes were willing to share their own possessions with other people. That was the beginning of our sharing program. Last year alone, 175 members took part in the program. We’ll continue to develop the project this year.
Woori On has recently begun offering a new service that connects the members with specialists in ten different areas, including future career plans, information and communications, law, and personal relations. The purpose of the service is to solve the difficulties of North Korean newcomers who have to make important decisions alone. Park says his goal is to provide more useful information to many more members.
I have two goals. First, I’ll run this community successfully so I can pay my staff well. Second, it would be ideal to help out all the 30-thousand North Korean newcomers here, but for now, I’ll recruit 10-thousand members within this year and give them various benefits.
The online community is organizing various face-to-face gatherings, including a field day and an event featuring both a music concert and a talk show, in order to encourage young people from South and North Korea to understand each other better. Woori On is playing a key role in bringing South and North Korea together and inspiring people to cherish their dreams. It is also looking forward to providing important information to people in North Korea very soon.
In South Korea, we can find a lot of good information that is essential to life. After Korea is unified, I believe this community will be a reliable portal site that provides information to 25 million people in the North.