Kim Jong Un
North Korea's leader has taken his daughter to a meeting with missile scientists in her second public appearance, in which state media called her Kim Jong Un's “most beloved” child, deepening outside debate over whether she is being primed as his successor. The daughter, believed to Kim’s second child named Ju Ae and about 9 or 10 years old, was first unveiled to the outside world last weekend in state media photos showing her observing the North’s intercontinental ballistic missile launch the previous day with her parents and other older officials. The daughter wearing a white puffy coat and red shoes was shown walking hand-in-hand with Kim past a huge missile loaded on a launch truck and watching a soaring weapon. On Sunday, the North’s state media mentioned her for the second time, saying she and Kim took group photos with scientists, technicians, officials and other workers involved in what it called the test-launch of its Hwasong-17 ICBM. KCNA described her as Kim’s “most beloved” or “precious” child, a more honorific title than her previous description of “(Kim’s) beloved” child on its Nov. 19 dispatch. It also released a slew of photos showing the daughter in a long, black coat with a black fur collar, holding her father’s arm. Read more: Kim claims that the ICBM test shows the ability to counter US threats Some photos showed the two of them standing in the middle of a line of uniformed soldiers before a massive missile atop a launch truck. Others showed Kim's daughter clapping her hands or talking to her father as people cheered in the background. Taking after her mother Ri Sol Ju, who wasn’t visible in any of the photos Sunday, she had a more mature appearance than in her unveiling a week ago. “This is certainly striking. The photograph of Kim Ju Ae standing alongside her father while being celebrated by technicians and scientists involved in the latest ICBM launch would support the idea that this is the start of her being positioned as a potential successor,” said Ankit Panda, an expert with the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. “State media underscoring her father’s love for her further underscores this, I think. Finally, both of her initial public appearances have been in the context of strategic nuclear weapons — the crown jewels of North Korea’s national defense capabilities. That doesn’t strike me as coincidental,” Panda said. After her first public appearance, South Korea’s spy service told lawmakers that it assessed the girl pictured is Kim’s second child, who is about 10 and whose name is Ju Ae. The National Intelligence Service said her looks matched information that she is taller and bigger than other girls of the same age. It also said that her unveiling appeared to reflect Kim’s resolve to protect the security of North Korea’s future generations in the face of a standoff with the United States. Read more: Kim threatens to use nukes amid tensions with US, S. Korea South Korean media previously speculated Kim has three children — born in 2010, 2013 and 2017 — and that the first child is a son while the third one is a daughter. The unveiled daughter is highly likely the child who retired NBA star Dennis Rodman saw during his 2013 trip to Pyongyang. After that visit, Rodman told the British newspaper The Guardian that he and Kim had a “relaxing time by the sea” with the leader’s family and that he held Kim’s baby daughter, named Ju Ae. North Korea has made no mention of Kim’s reported two other children. But speculation that his eldest child is a son has led some experts to question how a daughter can be Kim's successor given the deeply male-dominated, patriarchal nature of North Korean society. Kim is a third-generation member of the family that has run North Korea for more than seven decades, and his father and grandfather successively governed the country before he inherited power in late 2011. “We’ve been told that Kim has three children, including possibly a son. If this is true, and if we assume that the male child — who has yet to be revealed — will be the heir, is Ju Ae truly Kim’s most ‘precious,’ from a succession standpoint?” said Soo Kim, a security analyst at the California-based RAND Corporation. “I think it is too early to draw any conclusions.” She said that Kim Jong Un may think his daughter’s unveiling is an effective distraction while conditioning Washington, Seoul and others to living with the North Korean nuclear threat as “the spectacle of Ju Ae appears to eclipse the intensifying gravity of North Korea’s nuclear and missile threat." She added that by parading his daughter around, Kim Jong Un may also want to tell his people that nuclear weapons are the sole guarantor for the country’s future. In remarks at the group photo session, Kim Jong Un called the recently tested Hwasong-17 “a great entity of strategic strength” and ordered officials to further build the country’s military capability to a “more absolute and irreversible one.” The North’s Hwasong-17 launch was part of a barrage of missile tests that it says were meant to issue a warning over U.S.-South Korean military drills that it views as an invasion rehearsal. Analyst Cheong Seong-Chang at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea said that Kim Jong Un cannot make his son his successor if he thinks he lacks leadership. Cheong said Kim may be preventing potential pushback for choosing a daughter as a fourth-generation leader, so he likely brought her to a successful ICBM launch event to help public loyalty toward him be carried on smoothly to his daughter. “When a king has many children, it’s natural for him to make his most beloved child as his successor,” Cheong said. “Kim Ju Ae is expected to appear occasionally at Kim Jong Un’s public events and take a succession training.” Revealing the young Ju Ae came as a huge surprise to foreign experts, as Kim Jong Un and his father Kim Jong Il were both first mentioned in state media dispatches after they became adults. Cheong, however, said Kim Jong Il had Kim Jong Un in mind as his heir when his son was 8 years old. Cheong cited his conversations with Kim Jong Un’s aunt and her husband, who defected to the United States. The fact that the South Korean spy agency said Ju Ae is about 10 years old despite reportedly being born in 2013 could be related to the country’s age-calculating system that typically makes people’s age one or two years older.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the test of a newly developed intercontinental ballistic missile confirmed that his country has another “reliable and maximum-capacity” weapon to contain outside threats, as he warned the United States and its allies that their alleged provocative steps would lead to “their self-destruction,” state media reported Saturday. North Korea’s state media said Kim oversaw the launch of the Hwasong-17 missile, a day after its neighbors said they had detected the launch of an ICBM that showed a potential ability to reach anywhere in the United States. The North’s Korean Central News Agency said Kim observed the launch with his wife Ri Sol Ju and their “beloved daughter” as well as senior officials. State media photos showed Kim walking hand-in-hand with his daughter clad in a white jacket and a pair of red shoes, and watching together a huge missile loaded on a launch truck. It’s the first time for North Korea to publish the photo of Kim’s daughter. Observers say Kim observing a weapons launch with his family suggests that he was confident in its success. Kim, 38, is the third generation of his family to rule North Korea. South Korean media reported he has three children born in 2010, 2013 and 2017 respectively. It wasn’t immediately known which child he took to the launch site. Much of Kim’s private life is still unknown, but in 2013, after a trip to Pyongyang, retired NBA star Dennis Rodman told the British newspaper the Guardian that he and Kim had a “relaxing time by the sea” with the leader’s family and that he held Kim’s baby daughter, named Ju Ae. Also read: North Korea continues its bombardment of missiles with a potential ICBM Friday’s launch was part of the North’s ongoing barrage of missile tests that are seen as an attempt to expand its weapons arsenal and boost its leverage in future diplomacy. Some foreign experts said the Hwasong-17 missile is still under development but is the North’s longest-range ballistic weapon designed to carry multiple nuclear warheads to defeat U.S. missile defense systems. KCNA said the missile fired from the Pyongyang International Airport traveled up to a maximum altitude of about 6,040 kilometers (3,750 miles) and flew a distance of about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) before it landed on the preset area in international waters off the country’s east coast. “The test-fire clearly proved the reliability of the new major strategic weapon system to be representative of (North Korea’s) strategic forces and its powerful combat performance as the strongest strategic weapon in the world,” KCNA said. Kim said his country is compelled to further bolster its “overwhelming nuclear deterrence” because U.S.-led military threats have been getting more transparent. Kim stressed the need to have the U.S. and its allies realize that their military steps against North Korea would “lead to their self-destruction,” KCNA said. “Kim Jong Un solemnly declared that if the enemies continue to pose threats to the DPRK, frequently introducing nuclear strike means, our Party and government will resolutely react to nukes with nuclear weapons and to total confrontation with all-out confrontation,” KCNA said. Kim’s statement suggests North Korea will continue its weapons testing activities as the United States is pushing to bolster its security commitment to its allies South Korea and Japan. North Korea’s weapons testing spree this year was possible partly because China and Russia have opposed the United States and its allies’ moves to adopt fresh United Nations sanctions on North Korea. There are concerns that North Korea could soon conduct its first nuclear test in five years. U.S. National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson condemned Friday’s launch and said the United States will take “all necessary measures” to guarantee the safety of its territory and South Korea and Japan. Vice President Kamala Harris separately met with the leaders of those countries and of Australia, Canada and New Zealand who are attending a regional forum in Bangkok to discuss a joint response to North Korea. South Korea and Japan also criticized the launch and held separate aerial drills with U.S. forces. South Korea’s military said it also staged unilateral exercises simulating aerial strikes on North Korean mobile missile launchers at a firing range near its land border with North Korea. Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said Friday that depending on the weight of a potential warhead, the missile had a range exceeding 15,000 kilometers (9,320 miles), “in which case it could cover the entire mainland United States.” The North’s nuclear and missile arsenals are shrouded in secrecy. Some experts say North Korea is still years away from possessing a functioning nuclear missile, saying it has yet to prove technologies to ensure that warheads survive the harsh conditions of atmospheric reentry. But others say North Korea has likely already acquired such capacities given the number of years spent on its nuclear program. In recent months, North Korea has performed dozens of shorter-range missile tests that it called simulations of nuclear attacks on South Korean and U.S. targets. North Korea said its tests were aimed at issuing a warning to the United States and South Korea over their military training that the North views as an invasion rehearsal. North Korea halted weapons launches for about a week before it fired a short-range ballistic missile on Thursday. Before that launch, North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui threatened to launch “fiercer” military responses to steps by the U.S. to bolster its security commitment to South Korea and Japan. Choe was referring to U.S. President Joe Biden’s recent meeting with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts on the sidelines of a regional gathering in Cambodia. In their joint statement, the three leaders strongly condemned North Korea’s recent missile tests and agreed to work together to strengthen deterrence. Biden reaffirmed the U.S. commitment to defend South Korea and Japan with a full range of capabilities, including nuclear weapons. Read more: N. Korea's Kim vows to develop more powerful means of attack
North Korea on Thursday said it found four new fever cases in its border region with China that may have been caused by coronavirus infections, two weeks after leader Kim Jong Un declared a widely disputed victory over COVID-19. North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency said health workers were conducting genetic tests on the samples taken from four people in the Ryanggang Province who exhibited fevers to confirm whether they were caused by the “malignant epidemic.” The North often uses that term, along with “malignant virus,” to describe COVID-19 and the coronavirus. Authorities immediately locked down the areas where the fever cases emerged and plan to maintain tight restrictions and quarantines until health workers determine the cause of the illness. “(Health authorities) pay attention to the fact that those with fever had not been infected by the malignant epidemic,” KCNA said. The country’s emergency anti-virus headquarters dispatched “talented epidemiological, virology and test experts to the area" and is taking steps to "trace all persons ... connected with the suspect cases, and persons going to and from the relevant area and keep them under strict medical observation,” the report said. North Korea said there have been no confirmed COVID-19 cases in any part of the country since Aug. 10 when Kim declared victory over the virus and ordered preventive measures eased, just three months after the country acknowledged an outbreak. Read:North Korea claims disputed victory over virus, blames Seoul While Kim claimed that the country’s success against the virus would be recognized as a global health miracle, experts believe the North has manipulated disclosures on its outbreak to help him maintain absolute control. The victory statement signals Kim’s aim to move to other priorities, including a possible nuclear test, experts say. After admitting to an omicron outbreak of the virus in May, North Korea reported about 4.8 million “fever cases” across its mostly unvaccinated population of 26 million but only identified a fraction of them as COVID-19. It claimed just 74 people have died, which experts see as an abnormally small number considering the country’s lack of public health tools. Kim’s declaration of victory over COVID-19 during a national meeting in Pyongyang was followed by a combative speech from his powerful sister, who said Kim had suffered a fever himself while steering the anti-virus campaign and laid dubious blame against South Korea while vowing deadly retaliation. North Korea claims that its initial infections were caused by anti-Pyongyang propaganda leaflets and other items carried across the border by balloons launched by South Korean activists, a claim the South has described as “ridiculous” and unscientific. There are concerns that Kim Yo Jong’s comments portend a provocation, possibly a nuclear or missile test or even border skirmishes. There are also worries that the North may try to stir up tensions as South Korea and the United States hold their biggest combined military training in years to counter the growing North Korean nuclear threat. The Ulchi Freedom Shield exercise, which involves aircraft, tanks and warships, continues in South Korea through Sept. 1. Diplomacy between Washington and Pyongyang to defuse the nuclear standoff has stalled since 2019 over disagreements in exchanging crippling U.S.-led sanctions against the North for the North’s denuclearization steps.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has declared victory over COVID-19 and ordered preventive measures eased just three months after acknowledging an outbreak, claiming the country's widely disputed success would be recognized as a global health miracle. The North’s official Korean Central News Agency also reported Thursday that Kim’s sister said her brother had suffered a fever and blamed the North Korean outbreak on leaflets flown from across the border from South Korea, while warning of deadly retaliation. Some experts believe North Korea has manipulated the scale of the outbreak to help Kim maintain absolute control of the country amid mounting economic difficulties. They believe the victory statement signals Kim's aim to move to other priorities but are concerned his sister's remarks portend a provocation. South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, issued a statement expressing strong regret over North Korea’s “extremely disrespectful and threatening comments” that were based on “ridiculous claims” about the source of its infections. Since North Korea admitted to an omicron outbreak of the virus in May, it has reported about 4.8 million “fever cases” in its population of 26 million but only identified a fraction of them as COVID-19. It has claimed the outbreak has been slowing for weeks and just 74 people have died. “Since we began operating the maximum emergency anti-epidemic campaign (in May), daily fever cases that reached hundreds of thousands during the early days of the outbreak were reduced to below 90,000 a month later and continuously decreased, and not a single case of fever suspected to be linked to the evil virus has been reported since July 29,” Kim said in his speech Wednesday, according to KCNA. “For a country that has yet to administer a single vaccine shot, our success in overcoming the spread of the illness in such a short period of time and recovering safety in public health and making our nation a clean virus-free zone again is an amazing miracle that would be recorded in the world’s history of public health,” he said. For Kim to declare victory against COVID-19 suggests that he wants to move on to other priorities, such as boosting a broken and heavily sanctioned economy further damaged by pandemic border closures or conducting a nuclear test, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. Read:Kim threatens to use nukes amid tensions with US, S. Korea South Korean and U.S. officials have said North Korea could be gearing up for its first nuclear test in five years amid its torrid run of weapons tests this year that included its first demonstrations of intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017. The provocative testing activity underscores Kim’s dual intent to advance his arsenal and pressure the Biden administration over long-stalled negotiations aimed at leveraging its nukes for badly needed sanctions relief and security concessions, experts say. Kim Jun-rak, a spokesperson for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Thursday the South Korean military was maintaining firm readiness and prepared for “various possibilities” of North Korean provocations. The bellicose rhetoric of Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, is concerning because it indicates she will try to blame any COVID-19 resurgence on the South and is also looking to justify North Korea’s next military provocation, Easley said. North Korea first suggested in July that its COVID-19 outbreak began in people who had contact with objects carried by balloons flown from South Korea — a questionable and unscientific claim that appeared to be an attempt to hold its rival responsible. Activists for years have flown balloons across the border to distribute hundreds of thousands of propaganda leaflets critical of Kim, and North Korea has often expressed fury at the activists and at South Korea’s leadership for not stopping them. During Wednesday’s meeting, Kim Yo Jong reiterated those claims, calling the country’s virus crisis a “hysteric farce” kicked off by South Korea to escalate confrontation. She claimed that her brother had suffered fever symptoms and praised his “energetic and meticulous guidance” for bringing an “epoch-making miracle” in the fight against COVID-19. “(South Korean) puppets are still thrusting leaflets and dirty objects into our territory. We must counter it toughly,” she said. “We have already considered various counteraction plans, but our countermeasure must be a deadly retaliatory one.” Kim Yo Jong's reference to Kim Jong Un's illness wasn't further explained. Outside experts suspect the virus spread after North Korea briefly reopened its northern border with China to freight traffic in January and surged further following a military parade and other large-scale events in Pyongyang in April. In May, Kim prohibited travel between cities and counties to slow the spread of the virus. But he also stressed that his economic goals should be met, which meant huge groups continued to gather at agricultural, industrial and construction sites. At the virus meeting, Kim called for the easing of preventive measures and for the nation to maintain vigilance and effective border controls, citing the global spread of new coronavirus variants and monkeypox.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and other top officials discussed revising stringent anti-epidemic restrictions during a meeting Sunday, state media reported, as they maintained a widely disputed claim that the country’s first COVID-19 outbreak is slowing. The discussion at the North’s Politburo meeting suggests it will soon relax a set of draconian curbs imposed after its admission of the omicron outbreak this month out of concern about its food and economic situations. Kim and other Politburo members “made a positive evaluation of the pandemic situation being controlled and improved across the country,” the official Korean Central News Agency said. READ: N. Korea's Kim vows to develop more powerful means of attack They also “examined the issue of effectively and quickly coordinating and enforcing the anti-epidemic regulations and guidelines given the current stable anti-epidemic situation," KCNA said. On Sunday, North Korea reported 89,500 more patients with fever symptoms, taking the country’s total to 3.4 million. It didn’t say whether there were additional deaths. The country’s latest death toll reported Friday was 69, setting its mortality rate at 0.002%, an extremely low count that no other country, including advanced economies, has reported in the fight against COVID-19. Many outside experts say North Korea is clearly understating its fatality rate to prevent any political damage to Kim at home. They say North Korea should have suffered many more deaths because its 26 million people are largely unvaccinated against COVID-19 and it lacks the capacity to treat patients with critical conditions. Others suspect North Korea might have exaggerated its earlier fever cases to try to strengthen its internal control of its population. Since its May 12 admission of the omicron outbreak, North Korea has only been announcing the number of patients with feverish symptoms daily, but not those with COVID-19, apparently because of a shortage of test kits to confirm coronavirus cases in large numbers. But many outside health experts view most of the reported fever cases as COVID-19, saying North Korean authorities would know how to distinguish the symptoms from fevers caused by other prevalent infectious diseases. The outbreak has forced North Korea to impose a nationwide lockdown, isolate all work and residential units from one another and ban region-to-region movements. The country still allows key agricultural, construction and other industrial activities, but the toughened restrictions have triggered worries about its food insecurity and a fragile economy already hit hard by pandemic-caused border shutdowns. Some observers say North Korea will likely soon declare victory over COVID-19 and credit it to Kim’s leadership. Yang Un-chul, an analyst at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea, said the North’s recently elevated restrictions must be dealing a serious blow to its coal, agricultural and other labor-intensive industrial sectors. But he said those difficulties won’t likely develop to a level that threatens Kim’s grip on power, as the COVID-19 outbreak and strengthened curbs have given him a chance to boost his control of his people.
North Korea launched a ballistic missile toward its eastern waters on Wednesday, South Korean and Japanese officials said, days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to speed up the development of his nuclear weapons “at the fastest possible pace” and threatened to use them against rivals. The launch, the North’s 14th round of weapons firing this year, also came six days before a new conservative South Korean president takes office for a single five-year term. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the missile was fired from the North’s capital region and flew to the waters off its eastern coast. It called North Korea’s repeated ballistic missile launches “a grave threat” that would undermine international peace and security and a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions banning any ballistic launch by the North. The statement said that Won In-Choul, the South Korean JCS chief, held a video conference about the launch with Gen. Paul LaCamera, an American general who heads the South Korea-U.S. combined forces command in Seoul, and they agreed to maintain a solid joint defense posture. Japan also detected the North Korean launch and quickly condemned it. “North Korea’s series of actions that threatens the peace, safety and stability of the international community are impermissible,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters during his visit to Rome. Also read: North Korea tests new weapon bolstering nuclear capability Kishida said he’ll discuss the launch when he meets Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi later Wednesday. “Naturally, we will exchange views on the regional situation in the Indo-Pacific and East Asia, and I will thoroughly explain the reality of the region including the North Korean missile launch today, to gain understanding about the pressing situation in the East Asia,” he said. Japanese Vice Defense Minister Makoto Oniki said that the missile was believed to have landed in waters outside of the Japanese Exclusive Economic Zone. There has been no report of damage or injury reported from vessels and aircraft in the area. It wasn’t immediately known what missile North Korea launched. South Korea’s military said the missile flew about 470 kilometers (290 miles) at the apogee of 780 kilometers (485 miles), while Oniki of Japan said it traveled about 500 kilometers (310 miles) at the maximum altitude of 800 kilometers (500 miles). Observers say North Korea’s unusually fast pace in weapons testing this year underscores its dual goal of advancing its missile programs and applying pressure on Washington over a deepening freeze in nuclear negotiations. They say Kim eventually aims to use his expanded arsenal to win an international recognition of North Korea as a nuclear state that he believes would help force the United States to relax international economic sanctions on the North. One of the North Korean missiles tested recently was an intercontinental ballistic missile potentially capable of reaching the entirety of the American homeland. That missile's launch broke Kim's self-imposed 2018 moratorium on big weapons tests. There are signs that the North is also preparing for a nuclear test at its remote northeastern testing facility. If made, the nuclear bomb test explosion by North Korea would be the seventh of its kind and the first since 2017. Last week, Kim Jong Un showcased his most powerful nuclear-capable missiles targeting both the United States and its allies during a massive military parade in capital, Pyongyang. During a speech at the parade, Kim said he would develop his arsenal at the “fastest possible pace” and warned that the North would preemptively use its nuclear weapons if its national interests are threatened. North Korea has previously unleased harsh rhetoric threatening to attack its rivals with its nuclear weapons. But the fact that Kim made the threat himself and in a detailed manner have caused security jitters among some South Koreans. Taken together with North Korea’s recent tests of short-range nuclear-capable missiles, some experts speculate North Korea’s possibly escalatory nuclear doctrine would allow it to launch preemptive nuclear strikes on South Korea in some cases. Wednesday’s launch came before the May 10 inauguration of South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol, who has vowed to boost Seoul’s missile capability and solidify its military alliance with Washington to better cope with increasing North Korean nuclear threats. North Korea has a history of raising animosities with weapons tests when Seoul and Washington inaugurate new governments in an apparent bid to boost its leverage in future negotiations. Also read: Ukraine: Missile attack kills 5 in Odesa Yoon’s power transition office called the latest North Korean launch “a grave provocation” and urged Pyongyang to stop acts that raise tensions and threaten international peace. It said in a statement that the Yoon government will strongly respond to North Korean provocations in close cooperation with the international community. Some experts say the Biden administration’s passive handling of North Korea as it focuses on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and an intensifying rivalry with China is allowing more room for the North to expand its military capabilities. The Biden administration’s actions on North Korea have so far been limited to largely symbolic sanctions and offers of open-ended talks. North Korea has rejected the administration’s offer for talks, saying it must first abandon its “hostile policy,” in an apparent reference to U.S.-led international sanctions and U.S.-South Korean joint military exercises.
The leaders of the rival Koreas exchanged letters expressing hope for improved bilateral relations, which plummeted in the past three years amid a freeze in nuclear negotiations and North Korea’s accelerating weapons development. North Korea’s state media said leader Kim Jong Un on Wednesday received a personal letter from outgoing South Korean President Moon Jae-in and replied on Thursday with his own letter appreciating Moon’s peace efforts during his term. Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency said Friday their exchange of letters showed their “deep trust.” Moon in his letter to Kim acknowledged setbacks in inter-Korean relations but insisted that their aspirational vows for peace during their summits in 2018 and an accompanying military agreement aimed at defusing border area clashes remain relevant as a foundation for future cooperation. Moon also expressed hope for a resumption of nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang and for Kim to pursue cooperation with Seoul’s next government led by conservative President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol, Moon’s spokesperson Park Kyung-mee said. Tensions on the Korean Peninsula have risen since a series of North Korean weapons tests this year, including its first flight-test of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017 in March, reviving the nuclear brinkmanship aimed at forcing the U.S. to accept it as a nuclear power and to remove crippling sanctions. Also Read: North Korea tests new weapon bolstering nuclear capability South Korea’s military has also detected signs that North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear testing ground it partially dismantled weeks before Kim’s first meeting with then-President Donald Trump in June 2018, a possible indicator that the country is preparing to resume nuclear explosive tests. Staking his single presidential term on inter-Korean rapprochement, Moon met Kim three times in 2018 and lobbied hard to help set up Kim’s meetings with Trump. But the diplomacy never recovered from the collapse of the second Kim-Trump meeting in 2019 in Vietnam, where the Americans rejected North Korea’s demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling an aging nuclear facility, which would have amounted to a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities. Kim has since vowed to bolster his nuclear deterrent to counter “gangster-like” U.S. pressure and sped up his weapons development despite limited resources and pandemic-related difficulties. North Korea also severed all cooperation with Moon’s government while expressing anger over the continuation of U.S.-South Korea military exercises, which were curtailed in recent years to promote diplomacy with the North, and Seoul’s inability to wrest concessions from Washington on its behalf. KCNA said Moon wrote in his letter to Kim that he will continue to support efforts for Korean reunification based on their joint declarations for inter-Korean peace issued after their meetings in 2018. Kim and Moon shared views that “inter-Korean relations would improve and develop as desired and anticipated by the (Korean) nation if the (North and the South) make tireless efforts with hope,” KCNA said. South Korea’s next leader could take a harder line toward Pyongyang. Yoon, who takes office May 10, has rejected pursuing “talks for talks’ sake” with North Korea and vowed to bolster Seoul’s alliance with Washington and resume their full-scale military exercises to counter the North’s nuclear threat. Analysts say North Korea is also likely to escalate its weapons demonstrations in coming weeks or months to force a reaction from the Biden administration, which has been focused on Russia’s war on Ukraine and a rivalry with China. Also Read: North Korea fires ballistic missile in extension of testing The administration’s actions on North Korea have so far been limited to largely symbolic sanctions imposed over a series of missile tests this year and offers of open-ended talks that were quickly turned down by Pyongyang’s leadership. There are views in Seoul that Washington is slipping back to the Obama administration’s “strategic patience” policy of ignoring North Korea until it demonstrates seriousness about denuclearization, although that approach was criticized for neglecting a gathering nuclear threat. Biden’s special envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, traveled to Seoul this week for meetings with senior South Korean officials and said they agreed on the need for a strong response to counter North Korea’s “destabilizing behavior.” After maintaining a conciliatory tone for years, Moon’s government objected more strongly to North Korea’s weapons tests this year, criticizing Kim’s government for ending its self-imposed suspension of long-range missile testing and urging a return to diplomacy. Seoul has also accused North Korea of destroying South Korean-owned facilities at the North’s Diamond Mountain resort where they ran tours together until 2008. Kim in 2019 called the South Korean facilities there “shabby” and ordered them destroyed, though the work was delayed by the coronavirus pandemic.
North Korea has test-fired a new type of tactical guided weapon designed to boost its nuclear fighting capability, state media reported Sunday, a day before its chief rivals the United States and South Korea begin annual drills that the North views as an invasion rehearsal. The 13th weapons test this year came amid concerns that North Korea may soon conduct an even larger provocation. That may include a nuclear test in an effort to expand the country’s arsenal and increase pressure on Washington and Seoul while denuclearization talks remain stalled. The official Korean Central News Agency said leader Kim Jong Un observed what it called the weapon’s successful launch. It released a photo showing a beaming Kim clapping his hands with military officers. Also read: N. Korea's Kim vows to develop more powerful means of attack KCNA said the weapon tested has “great significance in drastically improving the firepower of the front-line long-range artillery units, enhancing the efficiency in the operation of (North Korea’s) tactical nukes and diversification of their firepower missions.” KCNA didn’t elaborate, but its use of the words “tactical nukes” suggested the weapon is likely capable of carrying a nuclear warhead that could hit strategic targets in South Korea, including U.S. military installations. The KCNA dispatch didn’t say when and where the launch occurred. “North Korea is trying to deploy not only long-range nuclear missiles aimed at American cities but also tactical nuclear weapons to threaten Seoul and U.S. bases in Asia,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “Pyongyang’s purposes likely exceed deterrence and regime survival. Like Russia employs the fear it could use tactical nukes, North Korea may want such weapons for political coercion, battlefield escalation and limiting the willingness of other countries to intervene in a conflict,” he said. Some observers said the weapon showed in North Korean photos suggested it might be a smaller, lighter version of its nuclear-capable KN-23 missile that has a highly maneuverable flight aimed at defeating missile defense systems. Others said it could be a new missile that combines the technical characteristics of the KN-23 and another short-range ballistic missile called the KN-24. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that it had detected two launches from the North’s eastern coastal town of Hamhung early Saturday evening. It said the missiles flew about 110 kilometers (68 miles) at an altitude of 25 kilometers (16 miles) and a maximum speed of Mach 4. South Korea’s presidential office said officials have met twice this weekend to discuss the North Korean military activities. South Korea’s military said later Sunday that its nine-day springtime drills with the United States will start on Monday. It said the allies decided to hold computer-simulated command post exercises that don’t involve field training after reviewing factors like the COVID-19 pandemic and the allies’ combined defense readiness. The exercises could further intensify animosities on the Korean Peninsula because North Korea has previously responded with its own weapons tests and fiery rhetoric. North Korea has started this year with a slew of weapons tests, including its first flight test of an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the U.S. homeland since 2017. South Korea recently said it has detected signs that North Korea is rebuilding tunnels at a nuclear testing ground it partially dismantled weeks before it entered now-dormant nuclear talks with the United States in 2018. A possible nuclear test by North Korea would involve a tactical nuclear warhead, said analyst Cheong Seong-Chang at the private Sejong Institute in South Korea. He predicted that North Korea would push to mount a tactical nuclear warhead on the weapon tested this weekend and deploy such nuclear missiles near the border with South Korea. “North Korea has a domestic imperative to make and perfect weapons ordered by Kim Jong Un last year regardless of what the U.S. does or doesn’t do. The test also tells his people that their country is strong despite their apparent economic difficulties,” said Duyeon Kim, a senior analyst at Washington’s Center for a New American Security. “One reason for the political timing could be to protest anticipated U.S.-South Korea military drills.” On Friday, Kim attended a massive civilian parade in Pyongyang that marked the milestone 110th birthday of his state-founding grandfather, Kim Il Sung. It appeared the country passed its most important national holiday without a highly anticipated military parade to showcase its new weapons systems. Also read:North Korea fires ballistic missile in extension of testing Kim may still hold a military parade on the April 25 founding anniversary of North Korea’s army. But if that anniversary goes without a military parade again, some experts say that might mean Kim doesn’t have new powerful missiles to display and that his next provocative step will likely be a nuclear test.
North Korea said Monday leader Kim Jong Un has vowed to develop more powerful means of attack, days after the country's first intercontinental ballistic missile launch in more than four years. The statement suggests North Korea might perform additional launches or even test a nuclear device soon as it pushes to modernize its arsenal and increase pressure on the Biden administration while nuclear diplomacy remains stalled. Last Thursday, the North performed its 12th round of weapons tests this year, launching the newly developed, long-range Hwasong-17, which analysts say was designed to reach anywhere in the U.S. mainland. During a photo session with scientists and others involved in the Hwasong-17 test, Kim expressed a resolve to build up the country’s attack capability to cope with threats, according to the official Korean Central News Agency. Read: North Korea fires ballistic missile in extension of testing “Only when one is equipped with the formidable striking capabilities, overwhelming military power that cannot be stopped by anyone, one can prevent a war, guarantee the security of the country and contain and put under control all threats and blackmails by the imperialists,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying. Kim said North Korea will develop more "powerful strike means” and also expressed his conviction and expectation that his country will “more vigorously perfect the nuclear war deterrence of the country,” KCNA said. North Korea said the Hwasong-17 flew to a maximum altitude of 6,248 kilometers (3,880 miles) and traveled 1,090 kilometers (680 miles) during a 67-minute flight before landing in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Outside experts said if the missile is fired on a standard trajectory, flatter than the steep test angle, it could fly as far as 15,000 kilometers (9,320 miles), enough to reach anywhere in the U.S. mainland and beyond. Believed to be about 25 meters (82 feet) long, the Hwasong-17 is the North’s longest-range weapon and, by some estimates, the world’s biggest road-mobile ballistic missile system. Its size suggests the missile is meant to carry multiple nuclear warheads, given the North already has single-warhead ICBMs that could hit most of the U.S. U.S.-led diplomacy aimed at convincing North Korea to denuclearize in return for economic and political benefits largely has stalled since 2019. The Biden administration has urged North Korea to return to talks without any preconditions, but Pyongyang has responded Washington must drop its hostility first and has taken steps to expand his weapons arsenals. Read: N. Korea confirms test of missile capable of striking Guam Some experts say Kim could soon conduct another ICBM launch, a launch of a satellite-carrying rocket or a test of a nuclear device as he works to perfect his weapons technology, dial up pressure on the United States and secure stronger internal royalty. The Hwasong-17 liftoff was the North’s most serious weapons launch since it tested a previously developed ICBM in November 2017.
North Korea claimed Thursday to have conducted the second successful test flight of a hypersonic missile, days after leader Kim Jong Un vowed to bolster his military forces despite pandemic-related difficulties. Wednesday’s launch, the North’s first known weapons test in about two months, indicates the country will press ahead with plans to modernize its nuclear and missile arsenals rather than return to disarmament talks anytime soon. The official Korean Central News Agency said the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party expressed “great satisfaction” at the results of the missile test, which was observed by leading weapons officials. Hypersonic weapons, which fly at speeds in excess of Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, could pose crucial challenges to missile defense systems because of their speed and maneuverability. It’s unclear whether and how soon North Korea could manufacture such a high-tech missile, but it was among a wish-list of sophisticated military assets that Kim disclosed early last year, along with a multi-warhead missile, spy satellites, solid-fueled long-range missiles and underwater-launched nuclear missiles. Read: North Korea fires suspected ballistic missile into sea Wednesday’s test was the second of its kind since North Korea first launched a hypersonic missile last September. “The successive successes in the test launches in the hypersonic missile sector have strategic significance in that they hasten a task for modernizing strategic armed force of the state,” a KCNA dispatch said. The word “strategic” implies the missile is being developed to deliver nuclear weapons. KCNA said the missile made a 120-kilometer-long (75 mile) lateral movement before hitting a target 700 kilometers (435 miles) away. It said the test reconfirmed the flight control and stability of the missile and verified its fuel capsule under the winter weather conditions. While North Korea appears to have made progress in the development of a hypersonic missile, it still needs more test flights to determine whether it meets its tactical objectives or how advanced a hypersonic weapon it could develop, said Lee Choon Geun, an expert and honorary research fellow at South Korea’s Science and Technology Policy Institute. A photo of the launch shows that the upper parts of the missiles launched in September and this week have different shapes. Lee said this suggests that North Korea is testing two versions of warheads for a missile still under development or it is actually developing two different types of hypersonic missiles. He said the missile’s reported lateral movement would provide the weapon with a greater maneuverability to evade enemy missile defense systems. Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said North Korea will likely go ahead with its arms build-up plans without being affected by external factors like the Beijing Olympics in February, the South Korean presidential election in March and a possible change in the Biden administration’s North Korea policy. “Given the U.S. has decided on a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Olympics, North Korea doesn’t have to worry about what China would think when it conducts” weapons tests, Kim said. China is North Korea’s last major ally and aid benefactor. Some experts earlier predicted that North Korea would not launch any provocations until the Beijing Olympics ended. Tae Yongho, a former North Korean diplomat who now serves as a lawmaker in South Korea, wrote on Facebook that Pyongyang is keeping its borders shut due to fears about the pandemic. But he said Pyongyang is still working to perfect its missile technology to boost its position in any future negotiations. The North’s latest launch was first detected by its neighbors. Read: US urges NKorea to stop missile tests and return to talks The U.S. military called it a ballistic missile launch that “highlights the destabilizing impact of (North Korea’s) illicit weapons program,” while South Korea and Japan expressed concerns or regrets over the launch. China, for its part, called for dialogue and said that “all parties concerned should keep in mind the big picture (and) be cautious with their words and actions.” U.S.-led diplomacy on North Korea’s nuclear program remains stalled since 2019 due to disputes over international sanctions on the North. The Biden administration has repeatedly called for resuming the nuclear diplomacy “anywhere and at any time” without preconditions, but North Korea has argued the U.S. must first withdraw its hostility against it before any talks can restart. During last week’s plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, Kim Jong Un repeated his vow to expand his country’s military capabilities without publicly presenting any new positions on Washington and Seoul. The North’s advancing nuclear arsenal is the core of Kim’s rule, and he’s called it “a powerful treasured sword” that thwarts potential U.S. aggressions. During his 10-year rule, he’s conducted an unusually large number of weapons tests to acquire an ability to launch nuclear strikes on the American mainland. But his country’s economy has faltered severely in the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the sanctions and his government’s own mismanagement.