Tension is rising again on the Korean Peninsula after North Korea conducted the second test launch of a Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile, or ICBM, on July 28. Before the launch, the international community had detected signs of North Korea’s imminent missile firing and closely monitored the Kusong area in the country’s northwestern province, where the first test-launch of the Hwasong-14 occurred on July 4. There, transporter vehicles carrying relevant equipment were also seen on the move. Contrary to prior expectations, however, Pyongyang fired the second Hwasong-14 missile from the Mupyong-ri area in the northern province of Jagang-do, which borders China. In another unusual move, the North fired the missile in the middle of the night. Here’s Kim Hyun-wook, a professor at the Korea National Diplomatic Academy, with his view on the missile launch.

Usually, North Korea carries out missile tests during the day. To launch a missile at night, various factors should be considered, including the weather and technological improvements. I think North Korea wanted to demonstrate that it is capable of striking the U.S. mainland at any time. The fact that the North fired the missile near the border with China can also be seen as a warning sign for Beijing.

A day after the missile firing, the Korean Central News Agency in the North said that the missile reached a maximum altitude of around 3,725 kilometers and flew 998 kilometers for 47 minutes and 12 seconds before falling precisely onto a designated target in international waters. One of the striking aspects of the launch is that the maximum altitude increased by more than 900 kilometers compared to the first Hwasong-14 missile, which traveled 933 kilometers after peaking at an altitude of 2,802 kilometers. If the first and second missiles were fired at a standard angle, they are estimated to fly 7,000 to 8,000 kilometers and 9,000 to 10,000 kilometers, respectively. That means the flight distance increased by about 2,000 kilometers in just 24 days. If North Korea fires a ballistic missile with a range of 10,000 kilometers, it could place Chicago within its strike range. It is a lot more threatening than the first missile that is estimated to put Alaska within reach.

The first missile was estimated to be capable of reaching Hawaii, Alaska and the U.S. west coast. But it is speculated that the latest one could hit eastern cities in the U.S. It seems North Korea has made remarkable progress in terms of the flight distance of the missile. But the key is how significantly the nation has improved the re-entry technology. It is not clear yet whether North Korea has secured the technology that allows an ICBM to successfully re-enter the earth’s atmosphere after it is launched at a standard trajectory.

In a statement on July 30, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry said that the recent test-launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile was intended to send a strong warning to the U.S. It also threatened to respond sternly with action if the U.S. sticks to its military adventurism and intense sanctions. Experts suspect that North Korea is pushing ahead with its ballistic missile and nuclear programs that might provoke the U.S., in line with its own roadmap.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un seeks dialogue with the U.S., based on his strong power base. After all, the nation’s ICBM targets the U.S. North Korea’s Scud and Rodong missiles already put most parts of South Korea within their range. Pyongyang’s dialogue partner is not South Korea but the U.S. It wants to make a deal with the U.S. for economic incentives and the lifting of sanctions. With this purpose in mind, North Korea continues with ICBM launches.

After North Korea’s recent missile provocation, U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Nikki Haley urged China to decide whether it is finally willing to take the vital step. Vice President Mike Pence also said that the era of strategic patience is over with North Korea and stressed the importance of China’s decision, saying that China should do more to rein in the North Korean regime. In the meantime, President Donald Trump said that the situation would be handled, sparking speculation that the U.S. may take action to put direct pressure on China.

The Trump administration sees the North Korean nuclear issue as a very important factor that influences its relations with China. It knows that there is no particular solution to the nuclear issue. Some have mentioned a regime change or military action as a drastic measure, but the possibility is low. So, why does the Trump administration keep bringing up the North Korea-related issues? Of course, North Korean missiles that may possibly reach the U.S. mainland are intimidating. But more importantly, the U.S. regards North Korea as a crucial means of taming China. The U.S. is using the nuclear issue to keep China in check and set the direction of bilateral relations. I think this is Washington’s policy toward North Korea and China.

China, meanwhile, is reacting strongly against Washington’s argument that China is responsible for the current North Korean nuclear crisis. Beijing claims that North Korea and the U.S. hold the key to the nuclear problem and that China is not the one who stokes tension in the region. For that reason, China says Washington’s pressure on Beijing is unfair. It seems that tension between the U.S. and China is escalating further in the wake of North Korea’s ICBM tests.

Like the U.S., China perceives the North Korean problem within the framework of U.S.-China relations. Beijing is well aware that the U.S. is using the nuclear issue to keep China in check. Therefore, China argues that South Korea and the U.S. should be held accountable for regional tension, taking issue with the deployment of an American THAAD missile defense battery in South Korea. China wants to turn the current phase of sanctions into that of dialogue so it can deter the U.S. from controlling and criticizing China.

Meanwhile in South Korea, the government proposed inter-Korean military talks in mid-July. But Pyongyang remained silent and chose a provocative way to respond to Seoul’s dialogue offer by launching another ICBM.

North Korea has no intention of engaging in dialogue with South Korea or the U.S. until it completes its nuclear and missile development. Even if Seoul continues to propose holding bilateral talks, inter-Korean dialogue would be possible only after North Korea believes it is fully equipped with nuclear weapons and long-range missiles and is therefore ready for dialogue. South and North Korea held talks and exchanges on numerous occasions during the years of former South Korean presidents Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun. But the situation is different now. In the mid to late 1990s, North Korea suffered from severe famine and economic difficulties. The nation had to hold an inter-Korean summit and exchanges with the South for economic assistance at the risk of being exposed to information from outside under the “sunshine policy” initiated by the South Korean government. But with the current Kim Jong-un regime highly sensitive about stabilizing its power, it is questionable whether North Korea may easily accept Seoul’s dialogue proposals, as it did in the past.

North Korea fired a second ICBM in less than a month, showing off its missile capabilities. With attention turning to what North Korea’s next move will be, there are concerns that the Korean Peninsula will be in a more heightened state of crisis, as the combined military drills between South Korea and the U.S. are scheduled for late August.

[Interview] Accordion Class Brings Together People from South, North Korea

Every Saturday, a music class is held at the office of the Organization For One Korea, located in Jongro-gu district in central Seoul. People from South and North Korea learn how to play the accordion here. Teacher Koh Jeong-hee is a skilled accordion player who learned the musical instrument in North Korea.

I played at the Pyongyang Art Troupe for about two years. After being expelled from the troupe, I engaged in some propaganda activities in local provinces. In China, I taught children. Here in South Korea, I attended a music college again. I’ve been working as a music teacher since 2013.

The accordion is rather an unfamiliar musical instrument in South Korea, but most people in the North can play it.

The accordion is a common musical instrument in North Korea. Many people carry it around as they can accompany songs with it. With upbeat songs in particular, the rich and cheerful tunes produce uniquely wonderful sounds.

It is not easy to learn the instrument, though. There are dozens of base buttons on the accordion, and the performer plays the melody on the keys. Unlike pianists who can see the keys while playing, accordionists have to develop a feel for where the buttons and keys are. It is said that it takes more than a year to master the instrument. Ms. Koh says she brought her accordion textbook with her when escaping from North Korea.

I used the textbook in different regions in China. I brought it all the way to South Korea, where I started to play the accordion again. But I almost rewrote it here because South Korean music uses different terms such as major, minor, sharp and flat. These words are never used in North Korea. I wrote a new arrangement of songs and accordion accompaniment so users of the book can play the instrument easily.

While playing the accordion, North Korean expats think about their hometowns and feel encouraged to work hard in South Korea. Let’s hear from Moon Hyun-ye, assistant administrator of the Organization For One Korea.

The class was created in the hopes of helping people from South and North Korea learn music together and become friends. As the class is usually held from 10 a.m. to noon, the participants often bring food for lunch. They share the food and their own stories with each other. In the process, it looks like they feel that South and North Korea are not any different. I like this class.

The accordion players, both from South and North Korea, are invited to various events. While preparing for the performances together, they find themselves depending on each other. Let’s hear again from Ms. Moon.

They have performed at various shows, such as an inter-Korean cultural festival and a singing contest for North Korean defectors. The accordion’s exciting and merry tunes go well with these events, which are held in a cheerful atmosphere. Before the performance, some performers were pretty nervous and asked me if they could actually do it. But once they took to the stage, they presented a fantastic show. It was also amazing to see the participants grow as skilled musicians.

The audience members’ enthusiastic response gives great strength to the performers. Ms. Koh, in particular, feels immensely happy to see her fellow North Korean audiences enjoy the performances. She says she feels like praising herself.

We have performed in front of elderly people who left their North Korean homes a long time ago. They really liked the accordion performance. We were glad that older people came to enjoy our show. When the show started, they cheered and clapped. They even demanded an encore. We were delighted that we did something good by making the senior citizens happy.

Here’s hoping that their accordion performances will soon be held all over the South and North.