At 5:57 a.m. on Tuesday, August 29, North Korea fired a Hwasong-12 ballistic missile from the Sunan area in Pyongyang. The missile passed through the skies over Japan and fell in the Pacific Ocean 1,180 kilometers east of the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido. The missile firing came just three days after the North launched short-range ballistic missiles from its eastern coast. Previously, North Korea threatened to use a Hwasong-12 missile to create “enveloping fire” around Guam. Here’s Professor Kim Dong-yeop at the Institute for Far East Studies at Kyungnam University to explain why the North fired a missile over Japan.
North Korea mentioned the possibility of striking Guam early this month to escalate tension yet again. The latest missile launch is seen as a display of strength following leader Kim Jong-un’s threat about firing missiles toward Guam. By firing a missile over Japan, North Korea wanted to demonstrate that it is fully capable of attacking the U.S. territory of Guam. Pyongyang is known to use the so-called “salami tactic” of slicing up a certain issue piece by piece and demanding incentives in each stage. The recent missile firing is viewed as part of this tactic—preparing for a possible missile attack on Guam step by step.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the missile reached a maximum altitude of 550 kilometers and flew 2,700 kilometers. Upon the missile launch, the Japanese government sent messages to local residents in Hokkaido to order them to evacuate. It is very unusual for North Korea to fire a missile over Japan for military purposes without prior notification and that the provocation prompted Japan to issue an emergency evacuation order.
Many experts are saying that North Korea will not be able to strike Guam with missiles since it will prompt the U.S. to take military action. It’s nothing short of suicide for the North. But North Korea may have wanted to say that the missiles it previously launched landed in the East Sea not because it is unable to fire missiles over Japan, but because it doesn’t want to cause issues with the international community. Through Tuesday’s missile launch, North Korea probably wanted to show its will and ability to hit Guam without actually firing a missile toward it.
Experts are noting that the missile was launched at a normal firing angle. It is different from previous tests of intermediate or longer-range missiles, where North Korea used a high-angle trajectory not to violate the territorial waters and airspace of neighboring countries while still testing missile capabilities.
It is true that North Korea usually launched its missiles at a steep angle to shorten their ranges so they would not fly over Japan. The latest launch has political purposes, rather than technical ones, since it shows that the missile can actually fly 2,000 to 3,000 kilometers and therefore hit Guam. That’s why the North fired the missile at a standard angle.
It is also notable that North Korea has fired missiles from various locations. Tuesday’s launch was the ninth missile launch since the inauguration of the Moon Jae-in government in South Korea in May. Among them, only two launches were conducted in the Wonsan area on the eastern coast. Others were fired from different places. North Korea is seemingly demonstrating its ability to move its self-developed mobile missile launcher to any place it wants, while attempting to avoid the intelligence network of the U.S. and South Korean militaries.
North Korea has usually fired missiles at sites close to a ballistic missile storage area or military facilities in coastal regions. But this time around, the missile was unexpectedly launched from the vicinity of Sunan District in Pyongyang in an apparent bid to catch other countries off guard. A missile firing from an inland region near an urban city may cause damage to civilians, but it seems North Korea was pretty confident about the missile’s capabilities. It has launched missiles from diverse locations in an attempt to confuse South Korean surveillance assets and to demonstrate that it is able to fire a missile from a mobile launcher at any site it wants.
China’s state-run China Central Television says North Korea conducted its latest missile launch in protest of the South Korea-U.S. combined military drills known as the Ulchi-Freedom Guardian, noting that Tuesday’s launch came only three days after its short-range missile test. In a regular briefing on Tuesday, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying criticized North Korea’s missile provocation, calling it a clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions. Still, she said that it would be necessary to seek a peaceful solution, not pressure, when dealing with North Korea. The remarks run counter to the views of other involved countries such as South Korea, the U.S. and Japan, which hinted at the possibility of stronger pressure on North Korea in response to its latest provocation.
In fact, China positively evaluated North Korea’s short-range missile test on August 26, as it believed that Pyongyang was adjusting the pace of its provocation in consideration of international opinion. But experts say that the most recent missile test just three days later proves that China’s evaluation was wrong. As a responsible member of the international community, China should make North Korea take responsibility for that. But Beijing says that involved countries should act wisely. In other words, China does not shift the blame only onto North Korea but is calling for the U.S. to take a forward-looking attitude. In doing so, China is seeking to take the lead in managing regional diplomacy.
The international community is watching North Korea’s next move. Domestically, the communist nation will hold important political events in the coming months, such as the September 9 anniversary of the founding of the regime and the anniversary of establishing the Workers’ Party on October 10. Experts predict that North Korea may launch another provocation in order to secure a strategic advantage over the U.S.
I’m sure North Korea will make additional provocations. Through the latest missile launch, North Korea made it clear that it would not be swayed by the U.S. Pyongyang may take a step further, with the U.S. still unprepared to do something. The recent missile flew over Japan, traveling 2,700 kilometers. North Korea could fire another missile flying some 3,300 kilometers, not toward Guam, but in another direction with the missile range within the reach of Guam. Through repeated provocations, North Korea will seek to up the ante in its confrontation with the U.S. I think the ball is in Washington’s court now. It seems the U.S. has yet to complete personnel selection, although it’s been over seven months since the Trump government took office. Dialogue between North Korea and the U.S. may not be held at a time South Korea expects. On the flip side, though, it means there is room for South Korea to play a certain role in dealing with North Korea-related issues.
In response to North Korea’s latest missile launch, South Korean President Moon Jae-in ordered the military to demonstrate its capabilities to overwhelm North Korea. Still, he clarified that he would maintain the basic frame of his North Korea policy, stressing that he would employ both pressure and dialogue to eventually denuclearize North Korea and settle peace on the Korean Peninsula.
[Interview] ‘Uni Star’, a Group of Young People from Two Koreas
Every one of our North Korean friends will hopefully be able to realize their dream. That’s our ultimate goal. We should help our friends adjust to their school life well and find jobs after graduation so they can mingle with South Koreans and resettle properly. In doing so, people from South and North Korea can nurture their dreams together. Only young people can perform that role.
You just heard from Park Hyun-woo, who set up a group bringing young people from South and North Korea together. Park talks about what the name of this group “Uni Star” means.
Looking up at bright stars in the night sky, we think the sun will rise again the next morning. In the same way, unification will certainly come about, although it is uncertain exactly when and how. Young people in South and North Korea can shine brightly, despite the dark reality of their divided homeland, like the stars in the night sky. “Uni” refers to “unification” and we named our group “Uni Star,” in the hopes that we, like stars, can light a path toward unification.
Uni Star started from a simple but big question, “What kind of role can young people play in fulfilling the historical mission of unification?” Launched in February 2016, the group has been engaging in a variety of activities.
To motivate students from the South and the North to talk about unification more freely, we have organized small gatherings and volunteer programs. For instance, we held a class in collaboration with Hongik University art school. We held a similar undergraduate program jointly with the Communications Department at Yonsei University. We’ve often hosted events that feature both a music concert and a talk show. We’re mainly focused on promoting communication and developing a shared vision for unification. For that purpose, we produce “card news” both in Korean and English and post it on our Facebook page so both Koreans and foreigners can read it.
Members of Uni Star also participate in a monthly book club, where they read only economy-related books. Yun Ji-woo, a North Korean defector who proposed this book club, and Mr. Park share their opinions.
In October last year, I became interested in economics and began to read relevant books. I found that the subject required deep thinking. I thought it would be better to read and discuss books with friends than to study by myself to improve my debating and cognitive skills. So I suggested to my friends that we create a book club. North Korean friends are greatly interested in economic issues, and their South Korean friends can explain details about those issues. That’s why we decided to hold a regular meeting for reading economic books together. We named this book club “Dream Generating Station.”
While attending the book club, the group members are naturally preparing for the future unification of Korea. Here again is Yun.
It’s important to study economics, but I think economic issues will be one of the biggest problems after unification. It’s significant that young people from both sides of the border talk about this serious topic and prepare for the future together.
The members are enthusiastic about the book club, which has been selected as one of the best evaluation programs by the Korea Hana Foundation, which is a state-run agency in charge of supporting North Korean defectors. Park says that he became all the more interested in issues about North Korea and unification because his grandfathers in both paternal and maternal lines came from North Korea.
Both my grandfathers are from Hwanghae-do Province in North Korea. They came to South Korea as refugees during the Korean War and settled here. When I was a child, they would hold me in their arms and told me about their North Korean hometowns and relatives they had left behind. They shared the stories only with me, not with other family members. I think the stories were deeply engraved in my mind, in spite of myself. I happened to meet with friends from North Korea and have had opportunities to work with them. I really appreciate that. North Korea is where my grandfathers’ beloved friends and relatives have lived, although I’ve never actually met them. Unfortunately, my grandfathers passed away, never returning to their hometowns that they had missed so much. As a grandchild, I think it’s my mission to carry their remains to their hometowns sometime in the future.
Under the slogan of “Prepared New Talent! New Unification Designed by Young People from South and North,” the group has been planning and implementing various special programs. It is working on a new program to plant trees.
The purpose of this program is to encourage young people from both Koreas to plant trees together, with the devastated forests in North Korea in mind. The city of Incheon has carried out a program to plant flowers and trees in the landfills in the region. We hope young people from South and North Korea will plant trees there together and put their notes indicating their wish for unification on the trees. We’re discussing the plan with the city. Incheon had been sending trees and flowers to North Korea up until 2015, as far as I know. Relations between South and North Korea are not very good for now. But when the situation improves, we can hopefully bring the trees we plant in the landfills to North Korea and re-plant them in the North.
We believe that members of Uni Star will shed light on the dark reality of a divided Korea, like shining stars in the night sky.