Early on May 14, North Korea fired a ballistic missile from the area around the northwest city of Kusong. The missile flew some 780 kilometers and reached a maximum altitude of more than 2,110 kilometers before falling into waters about 420 kilometers west of Tsugaru Strait in Japan. Amid strong pressure from the U.S. and China, Pyongyang’s latest missile provocation came four days after the inauguration of South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Here’s Professor Kim Yong-hyun from the North Korean Studies Department at Dongguk University.

North Korea’s missile launch came amid Washington’s pressure on Pyongyang and the change of government in South Korea. With future negotiations in mind, the communist nation is apparently focusing on advancing its missile capabilities. While the USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier was staying near the Korean Peninsula and China was hosting the Belt and Road Initiative Forum, North Korea may also have wanted to highlight its presence.

One day after the missile firing, the Korean Central News Agency in the North said that the nation successfully test-launched a ground-to-ground medium long-range strategic ballistic rocket under the supervision of leader Kim Jong-un, calling the new missile Hwasong-12.

The missile known as Hwasong 12 flew nearly 800 kilometers, making it the longest-range missile ever tested by North Korea. Although it is not an intercontinental ballistic missile, the medium long-range missile shows that North Korea’s missile technology has progressed considerably and rapidly. If the missile was fired at a standard angle of 45 degrees, it could have flown a distance of 4,500 to 5,000 kilometers. It could reach Alaska. With a further distance, it could even hit Hawaii. The latest missile launch certainly places a significant psychological burden on the U.S.

U.S. President Donald Trump has recently said that he would meet North Korean leader Kim Jong-un under the right circumstances. In an apparent response, Choe Son-hui, director general of North American affairs at North Korea’s Foreign Ministry, has said that North Korea would talk with the U.S. if the conditions were right. Choe made the remarks in Beijing on May 13, after holding talks with former U.S. officials in Norway in the so-called Track 1.5, or semi-governmental, semi-civilian discussions. It was the first time that a senior North Korean official hinted at the possibility of dialogue with the U.S. since the inauguration of the Trump government. However, diplomatic experts are saying that Pyongyang’s recent missile launch put the brakes on North Korea-U.S. dialogue.

Some had expected the Oslo meeting to be the catalyst for facilitating North Korea-U.S. dialogue. But the latest missile launch will lessen those expectations, with the effect of the Oslo talks diminishing. North Korea’s provocations will almost certainly make the dialogue process even more difficult. For now, it is important to prevent North Korea from making additional military provocations and to make diplomatic efforts for that purpose.

The missile launch is also seen as a strong message toward China, indicating that it is North Korea’s sovereign right to develop missiles and nuclear weapons. The missile firing occurred on the same day that China opened the Belt and Road Initiative Forum, which is one of the most important diplomatic events for China this year. It is easy to imagine that Beijing was embarrassed by the missile provocation of its communist ally. In a meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the forum, Chinese President Xi Jinping reportedly expressed worries about North Korea’s missile launch, which is expected to influence North Korea-China relations.

North Korea’s missile launch is viewed as its move to keep China in check, as Beijing agrees with Washington’s policy of pressuring Pyongyang. Of course, North Korea-China relations won’t deteriorate because of one missile launch. But if North Korea continues to develop technologies to put a nuclear warhead on ballistic missiles, it will eventually become a nuclear weapons state. In the process, the U.S. will certainly put great pressure on China. Beijing, for its part, doesn’t want a nuclear-armed North Korea, which may trigger a domino effect of nuclear armament in Northeast Asia and make it difficult for China to deal with regional diplomacy. Therefore, China could express its discontent with North Korea both directly and indirectly.

Right after North Korea’s ballistic missile launch, South Korean President Moon Jae-in convened and presided over the standing committee of the National Security Council. He strongly denounced the missile provocation, stressing that South Korea is leaving the possibility of dialogue with the North open but such dialogue is only possible when the North shows a change in attitude. Meanwhile, the Rodong Sinmun newspaper in North Korea said on Monday that regional peace was something that should be discussed between North Korea and the U.S. This is interpreted as Pyongyang’s typical old tactic of having direct talks with the U.S. while sidelining South Korea.

While separating the nuclear issue from inter-Korean ties, North Korea is attempting to unnerve the Moon government in Seoul and cause a rupture in the South Korea-U.S. alliance. To maintain their bilateral alliance, Seoul and Washington will look to cooperate in addressing the North Korean nuclear issue. But North Korea is telling the Moon government to only take care of inter-Korean relations and stay away from the nuclear issue. Clearly, the North is trying to drive a wedge between South Korea and the U.S.

President Moon Jae-in and his U.S. counterpart Donald Trump have agreed to hold their first summit in Washington late June. The upcoming summit should hopefully provide some clues on how to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue.

[Interview] Economic Education Lecture Assists N. K. Newcomers in Resettlement

An economic education lecture is being held at the building of Dream Makers for North Korea, which is also known as Mulmangcho Association, in Seocho-gu District in southern Seoul. The lecture aims to help North Korean defectors here in South Korea better understand a market economy. The ten-week course continues until the end of May. Let’s hear from Hong Min-ji, lecturer from the association.

For North Korean defectors, one of the most challenging parts in their South Korean lives is to understand various economic terms, such as stocks and the KOSDAQ. Many of them know very little about banking services, in particular. That’s why we decided to host this lecture.

For newcomers from the closed North Korean society, it is far from easy to adjust to a market economy in capitalistic South Korea, where everything is determined by individual choices.

The lecture in the first week was mostly about capitalism in South Korea. In the next stage, the trainees learned how the South Korean economy has developed. Last week, they were informed of potential financial crimes, including voice phishing and how to avoid scams. Now, they will learn about insurances and how the economy may evolve.

Banking is an essential everyday activity. But North Korean newcomers, who are not familiar with the concept of banking, often find it difficult even to open a bank account. There are numerous kinds of bank accounts, and it is hard to tell which one would be most appropriate for them. Likewise, it isn’t easy to withdraw money from an automated teller machine or transfer money. Defector Lee Hyun-ok talks about her experience.

In North Korea, there are no ATMs whatsoever. Here in South Korea, I was totally lost at first, not knowing what to do. But I was reluctant to ask people questions because I felt ashamed of my North Korean accent. So I just looked at other people using the ATM. Soon, I was able to use the machine myself. It was amazing. It turned out to be very convenient.

Credit cards are also unfamiliar to the newcomers. They had never used a credit card in North Korea, and they heard that they might end up being credit defaulters if they use the card improperly. Therefore, many of them were wary of using the card at first. The lecture enables them to learn about a capitalistic economy as well as essential basic economic information. Here again is Ms. Hong.

Every week, we receive evaluations from the trainees. Some say they were happy to understand difficult terms so easily. Others say that it has become much more convenient to use banks.

The course has two sessions per day. An economic education lecture is provided in the first session, and the second session is dedicated to psychotherapy. Many defectors feel tense as they struggle to adapt to an unfamiliar environment. The psychical cure is designed to make them feel more comfortable, both physically and emotionally. Created back in 2012, the Mulmangcho Association is a human rights group committed to assisting North Korean defectors in their resettlement as members of South Korean society. The group is operating education facilities for teenage defectors and carrying out various research activities. This lecture project is part of the association’s program called “Open School.”

Our “Open School” is literally open to everyone, regardless of age or gender, as long as they are a North Korean defector. North Korean expats are all welcome to attend our lectures. This time, we’re offering economic education. But we’ll also provide various other educational programs about humanities, art, and law. We hope many more people will be able to acquire basic knowledge about the essential parts of daily life, get useful information, and make fond memories at this “Open School.” We often provide interesting experience programs as well. Last year, participants of the modern history class went on a field trip to Tsushima Island in Japan.

Upon arriving in South Korea, North Korean defectors get basic training at the Hanawon rehabilitation center. After completing the training course, however, they often bump into unexpected difficulties in real life. The “Open School” is popular with the newcomers, as it provides them with important information they badly need. The participants of this lecture program are saying that the lecture allowed them to overcome their vague fear of anything related to the economy.

I learned a lot about the economy. I’m glad to study about differences between a capitalistic economy and a socialist one. I was totally ignorant of the differences before.

I signed up for this program in the hopes of reaching a sort of self-realization. It was a great experience for me. Previously, there were a million things that I didn’t know. Thanks to this program, I was able to learn something new.

We hope the lecture program will help North Korean expats adjust to the market economy of South Korea in an easier way.