At 5:39 a.m. on May 29, North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile eastward from the Wonsan area on its east coast. The missile traveled about 450 kilometers after peaking at an altitude of 120 kilometers. North Korea launched a missile as many as four times over the span of 20 days after South Korean President Moon Jae-in took office on May 10. It is unusual that the North has fired missiles repeatedly in such a short period of time since the inauguration of a new government in South Korea. Here’s Hong Hyun-ik, senior researcher at the Sejong Institute, to explain what North Korea has in mind behind its continuous missile launches.
The Trump administration is leaning toward dialogue with North Korea, as it considers engaging in talks with Pyongyang as long as the communist regime stops its missile and nuclear provocations. The newly-inaugurated Moon Jae-in government is pushing for the South Korea-U.S. summit late June. Until then, it seems rather difficult for North Korea and the U.S. to seek dialogue because South Korea and the U.S. are expected to build a bilateral cooperation system first. So, before the end of June, North Korea will try to expand its nuclear and missile capability to the highest degree so it can maximize its bargaining power around the time when any talks with the U.S. or South Korea get under way. In short, the series of North Korea’s missile launches are aimed at enhancing its future negotiating power.
North Korean state media reported that leader Kim Jong-un inspected the successful test of a new type of anti-aircraft guided weapon system on May 27, two days before the ballistic missile launch. The new weapon system is presumed to be the KN-06 surface-to-air missile, which is called the North Korean version of a Patriot missile.
The surface-to-air missile challenges South Korea’s Kill Chain system. South Korea will use the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense or THAAD system, which is being deployed in Seongju, to intercept North Korean missiles at an altitude of 40 to 150 kilometers. Patriot missiles will be used to shoot missiles down at lower altitudes. The KN-06 surface-to-air missile North Korea has recently developed is not a ballistic missile but a weapon system aimed at intercepting South Korean or U.S. aircrafts and missiles heading toward the North. Obviously, Pyongyang has South Korea’s Kill Chain preemptive strike system in mind.
The latest missile launch marked North Korea’s ninth ballistic missile test this year alone. It is firing various types of missiles. The nation fired the Pukguksong-2 mid-range ballistic missile on February 12, four Scud-ER missiles on March 6, and the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile on May 14. If short-range missiles, such as the KN-06 surface-to-air missile, are included, the number of North Korea’s missile tests is even larger. The frequent missile launches show that North Korea is demonstrating its diversified ballistic missiles.
North Korea is developing a number of missiles with various ranges of 1,000 kilometers, 3,000 kilometers and 3,000 to 5,000 kilometers. But it refrains from test-firing a long-range missile, which is set by the Trump administration as a red line. The Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile was fired at a higher angle and reached a maximum altitude of 2,000 kilometers, therefore reducing its flight distance to 500 kilometers. If fired at a standard angle, however, it could reach Alaska or even Hawaii. North Korea is diversifying and modernizing its missiles with precise striking capabilities. It claims that its missiles are ready for mass production now.
While the international community is strongly condemning North Korea’s missile provocations, the leaders of the Group of Seven member nations agreed on pressure on North Korea during their meeting in Italy on May 26 and 27. The G7 leaders condemned Pyongyang’s nuclear tests and missile launches in the strongest terms and stressed that they were ready to strengthen sanctions against North Korea for its denuclearization. But it is uncertain whether the international agreement on tough measures will actually lead to sanctions on North Korea.
The G7 leaders declared in the strongly-worded joint statement that North Korea was a top priority on the international agenda. They never mentioned dialogue with the communist state. The statement reflects the hard-line stance of the U.S. and Japan. The U.S. has yet to implement the so-called secondary boycott on Chinese firms doing business with North Korea, while China is not considering a total suspension of oil supplies to the North. Even though China is showing some sincerity towards sanctions on North Korea, it is unclear whether Beijing will continue to slap sanctions on the North consistently. In a certain period of time, about a hundred days, the Trump administration will likely examine whether it should adopt the secondary sanctions. The G7 summit did issue a statement calling for strong sanctions against Pyongyang, but it remains to be seen whether the symbolic statement will actually lead to effective measures.
The Moon Jae-in government is seeking to address the North Korean nuclear and missile issue through dialogue. But Pyongyang is only escalating tension in the region with endless provocations. Attention swings to how North Korea may act down the road.
It doesn’t seem the Trump administration will actively pursue dialogue with North Korea for now, even though it leaves the door open for talks. Against this backdrop, the new South Korean government will carefully examine the suspended inter-Korean economic programs, such as the Gaeseong Industrial Complex business and the Mt. Geumgang tour project, which North Korea wants to resume. But the government should consider public sentiment as well as Washington’s position, so it will take a considerable amount of time to actually restart the programs. North Korea is expected to refrain from a nuclear test or long-range missile launch, at least for the time being. But it is very likely that the North will continue with low-intensity provocations in order to demonstrate its presence, strengthen internal unity and pressure the Moon government in South Korea.
With North Korea’s provocations anticipated, the South Korea-U.S. summit scheduled for late June is expected to be a watershed in the allies’ North Korea policy.
[Interview] University Promotes Inter-Korean Communication through Performing Arts
In a classroom at the building of the Department of Performing Arts of the Social Education Course at Myongji University, western Seoul, a group of students are practicing singing. The students attending the class were all admitted to the school through a special screening process for North Korean defectors. Any North Korean newcomers, regardless of age and academic background, can enter the department as long as they are interested in vocal music, piano, acting or dance. Let’s hear from department Professor Choi Su-yong(최수용) and visiting professor Lee Hak-chul(이학철), who is a North Korean defector and graduated from an art college in South Korea.
North Korean students receive 50 percent of the scholarship from the Unification Ministry and the Hanawaon rehabilitation center. The remaining 50 percent is provided by the school. So, they attend the school on a full scholarship.
Many North Korean students are good at singing, dancing and acting, and I thought they would be able to develop their talent in university. After discussing with Professor Choi, we installed this department in 2014.
Currently, some 50 North Korean students are enrolled in the Department of Performing Arts. In the first year when the department was created, both South and North Korean students took the class together. But the students from the North found it hard to study with their South Korean peers because they were not familiar with various jargons and their North Korean accent made it difficult for them to sing South Koreans songs correctly. Therefore, the school began to offer classes exclusively for North Koreans to help them adjust to their school life in an easier way. Let’s listen again to Professor Choi.
We provide music and acting classes. The students learn vocal music and acting one-on-one. In the first year, they learned a musical titled “Nonsense” and presented it on the stage at the end of the semester. Those who could not take part in the musical performed what they had learned in North Korea, whether it was dance, drum, traditional Korean dance or accordion, to showcase their own specialties. Their show in the first semester proved to be a success.
The North Korean students are in their 30s on average. Most of them began to study rather late in their lives and they have had many difficulties in school due to cultural differences and lack of experience. But they are nurturing their dreams through music and acting lessons.
I lacked confidence before. But after attending the acting class, I was able to restore self-confidence. Now, I’m no longer afraid of standing in front of other people. The school has been greatly helpful for me.
I participated in a drama competition last year. I played the role of a policewoman who takes an old lady with Alzheimer’s disease, who was wandering in a park, to her home. I was very happy to be able to do something I had always wanted to do right here in South Korea. My dream is to become an actress, and I’m working toward that goal.
The learning process is rather slow because the students have to learn how to pronounce words correctly and act appropriately all over again. But they never fall behind others when it comes to enthusiasm. Here again is Professor Lee.
The students couldn’t afford to attend university in North Korea, and they are always thankful for having the opportunity to study in university here. Watching them fully express their desire and passion for their dreams by singing and acting enthusiastically, I feel I did something wonderful for those people. I’m proud of my job.
Acting on the stage means living other people’s lives. Through various indirect experiences on the stage, the North Korean newcomers are learning how to resettle in South Korea. Here is Professor Lee Jang-hoon(이장훈), who teaches acting.
Through acting, they share their own stories and also learn how South Korean society works. They may or may not become professional actors, but they can hopefully communicate with each other and better understand South Korean society through this class. With this hope in mind, I prepared for the acting class. I’m glad that many students like it.
Next year, the department will produce first North Korean graduates. The university is making efforts to help them adjust to South Korean society well even after graduation. Professor Choi talks about their possible future careers.
We have created an art group named “Gaon(가온) Vocal Ensemble,” which will consist of North Korean artists. We’ve already selected 12 North Korean students for the group and are training them now. The group will guarantee their art-related activities after graduation and help them live on their own lives. In this way, we’re trying our best to assist them in their successful resettlement here.
The students, for their part, have an ambitious plan to connect South Korean art with North Korean one after unification.
I’ll study really hard, since it was difficult for me to decide to study in this school. After Korea is unified, I hope to become a professor in North Korea and teach students there what I learned here. I’ll share everything I learned with them. I hope to be a music teacher who can promote the culture of both South and North Korea.
We hope the students will be able to achieve their dreams, which they couldn’t realize in North Korea, and their performances will inspire the two Koreas to communicate with each other naturally.