In what North Korea said was a “special, important announcement” on Tuesday, Pyongyang said that it successfully conducted a test of an intercontinental ballistic missile called Hwasong-14. The announcement came at 3:30 p.m., hours after the nation launched the missile. The North claimed that the missile flew for 39 minutes in accordance with the planned flight orbit before hitting its intended target in the East Sea. It’s the first time that North Korea has officially mentioned the successful ICBM test-launch in an apparent bid to proclaim its possession of ICBMs inside and outside the nation and to pressure the international community. Here’s Professor Kim Dong-yeop from the Institute for Far East Studies at Kyungnam University.

Through its nuclear and missile development, North Korea wants to show that it can retaliate against any attack. The nation is using its nuclear weapons for regime maintenance. For that purpose, North Korea has so far tested a barrage of missiles, including short-range and mid-range ones. But an ICBM is a missile that could reach the U.S mainland. A successful ICBM development would mean the peak of the nation’s deterrence strategy based on missiles and nuclear weapons. North Korea used to make a special announcement after it carried out a nuclear test. An ICBM launch and a nuclear test are equally important, so the North made a special announcement after its ICBM test, unlike other missile launches in the past.

North Korea claimed that the test launch was conducted at the sharpest angle possible, with the missile traveling 933 kilometers and reaching a top altitude of 2,802 kilometers. Experts estimate that it could fly more than 8,000 kilometers if it is fired at a standard angle, possibly striking the western part of the U.S. mainland. If the missile test proves to be successful, North Korea could be the sixth country in the world to possess an ICBM, following the U.S., Russia, China, India, and Israel. That would inevitably lead to a major change in regional diplomacy in Northeast Asia. But experts believe that North Korea has yet to secure the re-entry technology for an ICBM. They assume that the North is also unable to make a nuclear warhead small enough to be mounted on top of the missile for now.

The flight distance isn’t the only factor to determine the successful development of an ICBM. The missile should withstand extreme heat when re-entering the atmosphere and reach the intended target. The missile should also be equipped with a precision control guidance system. There is a lot of doubt that North Korea has mastered the relevant technologies. It is also questionable if the North is capable of making a nuclear warhead small and light enough to be mounted atop a long-range missile. Therefore, it is hard to say that North Korea has succeeded in developing an ICBM simply by test-launching it. I think it will take at least two to three years for the North to overcome some technical challenges and actually deploy an ICBM for combat use.

Regarding North Korea’s ICBM test-firing, the U.N. Security Council convened an emergency meeting on Wednesday, July 5. The U.S. government has stressed that it will not tolerate a nuclear-armed North Korea, confirming that the Hwasong-14 missile fired by the North was an ICBM. Meanwhile, China’s Foreign Ministry has also criticized Pyongyang’s missile provocation, calling it a violation of the U.N. Security Council resolutions. The missile launch came after Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin agreed to resolve Korean Peninsula-related issues through dialogue. It remains to be seen how North Korea-China relations may evolve.

China thinks of North Korea as a strategic asset, especially when dealing with its relations with the U.S. China may join international sanctions against Pyongyang and pressure the North, as the U.S. wants. But that’s only China’s outward attitude. Inwardly, I don’t think there will be any major change in North Korea-China relations. Of course, China is upset about the wayward behavior of its communist ally. If North Korea’s continued provocations and security threats break stability in Northeast Asia, it will certainly have a negative impact on China in economic and security areas. So, Beijing is expected to try hard to control Pyongyang. North Korea’s latest missile firing may influence bilateral relations negatively for now. In a broader context, however, there will be no change in China’s strategy involving North Korea and Beijing is unlikely to give up on Pyongyang either.

The Moon Jae-in government in South Korea has expressed willingness to resolve the North Korean nuclear issue by improving inter-Korean relations and promoting dialogue. Marking the 17th anniversary of the first inter-Korean summit on June 15, President Moon said that he was open to dialogue with North Korea without conditions if the North refrains from additional nuclear and missile provocations. During his first summit with U.S. President Donald Trump last week, he stressed the importance of restoring inter-Korean relations and the two leaders agreed on the need to resolve the nuclear issue based on a phased and comprehensive approach using sanctions and dialogue. There are concerns that the recent missile launch by North Korea may negatively affect Seoul’s efforts to mend its ties with Pyongyang.

South Korea might be in a tricky position for some time, as it was about to speed up the process of improving inter-Korean ties after the South Korea-U.S. summit. Seoul will inevitably need to adjust the pace of its engagement with Pyongyang. North Korea, for its part, doesn’t want South Korea to intervene in its matters with the U.S. With this in mind, the Seoul government should deal with its relations with the North. The future of inter-Korean ties will depend on how the nuclear issue may develop and how South Korea links this issue with inter-Korean matters.

The North Korean nuclear and missile issue is expected to comprise one of the major discussion topics at the G20 Summit, which will be held in Germany on Friday, July 7. We’ll have to wait and see how the international community will respond to this grave issue.

[Interview] Alternative School Helps Defectors Nurture Dreams in S. Korea

Students of different ages are studying at Hankkum or Great Vision School, which is an alternative school for North Korean defectors. School principal Kim Du-yeon explains what the school name means.

The word “Hankkum” means “a big dream.” The school encourages the students to have a big dream, which is to achieve the unification of Korea and lead a unified Korean society in the future. With this hope in mind, we named the school Hankkum, or Great Vision School.

The school was set up in 2004 by Reverend Kim Seong-won. While rescuing and supporting North Korean defectors in China and Thailand, the minister found himself hoping to help out young defectors who had a hard time adjusting to South Korean society. That’s why he established this school. It is challenging for most defector students, who are used to the North Korean education system, to catch up with their studies in South Korean schools. For grown-ups, in particular, it is difficult even to be admitted to regular schools. This school provides learning opportunities to North Koreans who have failed to complete regular courses for various reasons. The average age of the school students is over 25. Six students are mothers with young children.

I’m 30 years old. In North Korea, I graduated from elementary school and entered middle school. After that, I didn’t get any education. My life here in South Korea was difficult. I couldn’t communicate with people properly because I was not familiar with the language here.

At present, some 40 people are teaching 30 students at the school. The teachers include 30 volunteers and eight full-time teachers, including Principal Kim, who taught Korean for 20 years. The school helps the students prepare for entrance exams for elementary, middle, and high school, as well as the college entrance exam. It also provides courses designed to assist newcomers in their resettlement. The students take classes in accordance with their learning abilities and levels, regardless of age, and some of them take one-on-one lessons when necessary. Thanks to the teachers’ sincere and enthusiastic lessons, over 80 percent of the students pass the school qualification exams. But the school isn’t all about studying and preparing for the exams. Here, the students learn about a new world, namely, capitalism, and come to know the unfamiliar South Korean society. Let’s hear from Vice Principal Kim Young-mi.

I think of these students as foreigners, although they speak Korean. They bring bankbooks or bills to school because they have no idea of how to use or manage them. For the newcomers, studying isn’t really a priority. Teachers often go to the bank with them. They wonder why the bank doesn’t accept gift certificates, as they heard that gift certificates could be used as money. Teachers have to explain things like that, and they have too much work to do for their students.

Most students live in a school dormitory, and teachers even cook meals and snacks for them each day. The teachers check the students’ lives in general so they have no problem studying.

Students who don’t live in a dorm bring some side dishes offered by the school to their homes. Teachers let them take food for their babies at home. For them, teachers are like their own mothers. Yesterday, a student was sick and she went to the doctor. She took her baby with her because she didn’t have time to send the child to a daycare center. Although she was sick, she still wanted to come to school. She called me and asked me if she could take her baby to the school. I said yes. When arriving here, she and her child ate food first. While she was studying in a classroom, other teachers took care of her child in the teachers’ room. No matter how hard the situation is, students can still study here, as long as they have passion. Teachers are all willing to help them out.

The school gives support to the students even after graduation. It helps students pay for college and manage their campus lives in an appropriate way. The school also assists them in preparing for their future careers. Here again is Principal Kim.

We continue to care for students even after they graduate. After they enter university, we help them receive scholarships and prepare for mid-term or final exams. I found that Princeton University has a division in charge of helping students from third-world countries get a master’s or doctoral degree. I thought it was a great program. So I went to universities my students were attending and asked professors or officials there to give support to students from North Korea.

Thanks to the stable learning environment, specialized education programs, and diverse support activities for individual learners, North Korean students at the school are nurturing their dreams again.

I had no dreams before. But while attending this school, I thought passing the school qualification exam would not be enough. I felt I should prepare for something else to live properly here in South Korea.

I live alone with my child. I went on a picnic the other day and I had a wonderful time. It was a whole new experience that I had never enjoyed in North Korea. I am determined to make great efforts to live well for my child’s sake.

As the school name indicates, the students should hopefully dream big and have a great vision in life.