On May 21, North Korea fired yet another ballistic missile from the Pukchang area in the country’s western province of South Pyongan. The missile, which North Korea calls Pukguksong-2, flew about 500 kilometers and reached a maximum altitude of 560 kilometers. It was North Korea’s eighth missile launch this year alone, and the second one since the inauguration of new South Korean President Moon Jae-in. Here is Moon Seong-mook from the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy to explain why Pyongyang continues to test-launch missiles.
The latest missile launch is seen as part of North Korea’s constant efforts to develop its missiles for military purposes. The North fired the same type of missile that was launched in February in an apparent move to verify its performance to those both inside and outside the nation. On a political front, North Korea shows to South Korea, the U.S., and the international community that it will never be discouraged by pressures and sanctions. The North is urging them to create a venue for unconditional dialogue, which is not based on the premise of North Korea’s denuclearization, and to acknowledge it as a nuclear weapons state.
North Korean state media outlets said that the Pukguksong-2 missile launch aimed to finally verify all the technical indexes of the weapon system and thoroughly examine its adaptability under various conditions. They also reported that leader Kim Jong-un, who observed the test, called the missile a successful strategic weapon and approved its deployment for military action.
North Korea claims that the missile has been fully developed so it can be deployed for field combat. But in 2007, North Korea made the same claim for its Musudan missiles, which the nation tested eight times last year. It turned out that most of the missile tests ended in failure. So it remains to be seen whether the North Korean military can put the Pukguksong-2 missile into actual operation, or if the nation exaggerated its missile capabilities.
The missile test came only a week after the launch of a ballistic missile called Hwasong-12. The series of missile firings show that North Korea is taking a two-track approach by developing the Pukguksong-2 missile propelled by a solid fuel engine and the Hwasong-12 missile using liquid fuel.
Most missiles possessed by North Korea use liquid fuel. The missile launches are detected easily because it takes 30 minutes to one hour to inject the fuel. But it takes only five minutes to launch a solid-fueled missile. That means missiles using a solid-fuel powered engine can be launched at very short notice. The two systems have their own advantages and disadvantages, and North Korea is developing both in order to use them alternately as it wants.
Regarding North Korea, U.S. President Donald Trump has said that he is willing to build toward peace through engagement if certain conditions are created, although the U.S. is now at the stage of pressure and sanctions. Trump made the remarks on May 17 during a meeting with Hong Seok-hyun, South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s special envoy to the U.S., mentioning the word “peace” for the first time when it comes to North Korea-related issues. The following day, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also said in a meeting with Hong that the U.S. seeks no regime change and no invasion of North Korea but will guarantee the North Korean system, adding that he hopes the North will trust the U.S. and give up its nuclear weapons development. Pyongyang’s Pukguksong-2 missile launch came in this situation. Moreover, North Korea said that the Hwaswong-12 missile that it launched on May 14 would put U.S. military bases in Hawaii and Alaska within its range.
In line with Washington’s North Korea policy of “maximum pressure and engagement,” Tillerson is telling North Korean leader Kim Jong-un not to hesitate to engage in dialogue. But North Korea has ignored this plea and continued with missile provocations, indicating that it will not accept a dialogue proposal on the assumption of denuclearization. Tillerson says that North Korea’s ongoing missile tests are disappointing and disturbing. If the U.S. chooses to step up its pressure against North Korea, tension is likely to linger for some time.
In a regular briefing on Monday, China’s Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying denounced North Korea for violating the U.N. Security Council resolutions by launching a ballistic missile. According to Japan’s Asahi Shimbun on Monday, Chinese President Xi Jinping asked Trump at their summit in early April to delay any specific action for a hundred days so China can control North Korea. But the Japanese newspaper questioned the effectiveness of the plan, due to North Korea’s continued provocations.
It has not been confirmed if the Chinese president actually suggested the 100-day plan. But it is true that Beijing has been increasing its pressure on Pyongyang since the China-U.S. summit. China is in a tricky situation now. It has sided with North Korea so far but Washington is now urging Beijing to fully embrace its role. China also frowns upon North Korea’s evolving nuclear and missile capabilities. But for now, China’s pressure on North Korea doesn’t seem to be working. We’ll have to wait and see how China will correct North Korea’s behavior and how it will keep the promise of the “100-day plan.”
The Unification Ministry in South Korea has recently said that it will flexibly review South Korean civic groups’ humanitarian aid for North Korea as well as civilian inter-Korean exchanges. The move is interpreted as the Moon government’s intention to promote dialogue with North Korea, while responding sternly to its provocations.
The current South Korean government finds it necessary to seek dialogue and pressure in tandem when dealing with North Korea. For that purpose, it plans to resume private-level humanitarian assistance for North Korea little by little in an effort to jumpstart the stalled inter-Korean dialogue. But it is necessary to prevent North Korea from exploiting these efforts. Also, the plan should not have a negative impact on cooperation between South Korea and the international community, including the U.S., when addressing the North Korean nuclear issue. President Moon has said that dialogue is possible only when North Korea shows a change in attitude. If Pyongyang continues to make provocations in defiance of international concerns, sanctions on North Korea will only intensify and protract the current deadlock in regional diplomacy. The North Korean regime should make a wise judgment.
With even stronger international sanctions on North Korea anticipated, attention turns to how the Moon government in South Korea will react to North Korea’s repeated ballistic missile launches.
[Interview] Businessman Runs Cup Rice Store to Help Defectors Start Business
A small food store near Sookmyung Women’s University in central Seoul is bustling with customers. The store sells cup rice, which is cooked rice and sauce, with salmon, tofu, or chicken on top of it inside a paper container. Store operator Kim Seung-geun says that his store has a special purpose.
I wanted to help North Korean defectors live independently, whether they work part time, get full-time jobs, or start their own businesses. I thought I should first gain hands-on experience myself to learn about the appropriate level of working hours and workload so I can help them in a practical way. That’s why I started this business.
While performing his military duty in a front-line army unit in Cheorwon near the inter-Korean border, Mr. Kim was able to see North Korea close up. When he was a student, he attended lectures offered by a North Korean defector. The experience sparked his interest in North Korea. As a volunteer at the Hanawon rehabilitation center, he helped North Korean newcomers learn how to use public transportation, hospitals, and banking services here in South Korea. In 2008, he met a woman who defected from North Korea and they later married. He began to ponder how to assist defectors in their resettlement.
Many North Korean defectors have to feed themselves here and also support their family members in North Korea as well. If they want to bring their family members to South Korea, they need a lot of money. After I got married, I was able to better understand the people from the North.
He decided to run his own store to help defectors gain experience there. His cup rice store is where defectors can learn everything they need to run a restaurant, like how to make food, purchase food supplies, and treat customers. A number of North Korean expats have worked there in the first year after the store opened. A defector named Seong Min has been working there for the past three months, preparing to start his own business.
Mr. Kim teaches me every detail of running a restaurant, including how to choose ingredients and control the amount of food I use when cooking, as well as how to serve customers. Based on my experience here, I’ll open my own place. I’ll be honest with customers and attract them with great tasting food.
To stress the importance of marketing and promotional activities, Kim advertises his cup rice on the street in the morning. Here he explains how those activities actually influence sales.
For about two hours in the morning and during lunchtime, I advertise my products with a microphone on the street where students are passing by. This activity itself is a big challenge for newcomers from the North. At first, they doubt they could do that, but they soon find themselves determined to take up the challenge. With the promotional activities, daily sales can increase by 10 to 15 percent.
Kim donates part of his profits to groups supporting North Korean defectors. Here again is Mr. Kim.
I have donated some five million won over the past year. The donation has been used to give scholarships to students from North Korea, provide loans to newcomers who hope to start their own business, and supply cup rice to schools for teenage defectors. On the wall of my store, I put up a note explaining that I have been able to do something good all thanks to my customers and expressing my gratitude to those who have contributed to creating a beautiful world. The customers are happy to see that, and they seem to find the cup rice more delicious. The note is drawing even more customers.
Kim believes that North Korean defectors’ proper resettlement in South Korea will be the beginning of Korea’s unification. And he is very proud of his business, which will hopefully pave the way for the future unification of Korea.
I hope North Korean defectors in the South will live well, achieve success here and do something important when they return to their hometowns after unification. I think this is the most important thing in preparing for unification. In this sense, I believe I can prepare for unification in my own way by helping them out and sharing something I have with them, so they are encouraged and motivated to work hard and live decent lives. Based on this belief, I’m doing my job.
Kim hopes that North Korean defectors will move beyond simply resettling in South Korea and successfully run their own businesses in the North after Korea is unified. We’re looking forward to seeing his wishes come true.