North Korea’s display of military might with short-range missile launches and a newly built submarine this week appears to be in protest of joint South Korea-US military exercises scheduled for next month.
The North fired two short-range missiles Thursday from Hodo Peninsula on the east coast, which flew about 430 kilometers and 650 kilometers, respectively, before falling into the East Sea. On Tuesday, the North’s Korean Central News Agency said that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspected a new advanced submarine, which experts believe could be capable of carrying a ballistic missile.
“The Kim regime likely times these tests for international signaling purposes, applying political pressure on the US and South Korea in an effort to get more for less in future negotiations,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
The tests came as the resumption of working-level nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang appears to be behind the initially expected schedule. The North has warned that upcoming US-South Korea joint military drills could derail negotiations with the US, as it believes the US violated a commitment to suspend military drills with the South, made by Trump in their first summit in Singapore.
Despite the warning, South Korea and the US said they would conduct the exercise, which is largely computer-based and smaller than traditional exercises, for the envisioned transfer of wartime operational control.
A surprise meeting between the North Korean leader and US President Donald Trump on June 30 had heightened expectations that the two countries would put spurs to their stalled negotiations, with the two leaders pledging a lower-level meeting as early as mid-July.
On Monday, Trump said the two sides will meet when the North is “ready.”
North Korea seems to view its denuclearization negotiations with the US as having stagnated, said Koh Yu-hwan, a professor at Dongguk University.
“It appears that the North is delaying US-North Korea working-level negotiations in time with the start of the US-South Korea military exercises. As the two sides seem to forge ahead with the exercises, the North is using this time to test its newly developed weapons,” he said.
Thursday’s missile tests mark the first launches in more than two months since the regime tested short-range ballistic missiles on May 4 and May 9, which ended a halt in missile launches dating back to late 2017.
With Trump and other US officials having played down the significance of the May tests by saying they were “short-range and not a threat to the US,” the North is trying to show that it can conduct such tests as part of efforts to exercise its right to self-defense as long as they are not long-range and pose threats to other countries, Koh said.
North Korea also cited the allies’ military exercise as a stumbling block for accepting food aid from South Korea.
On Wednesday, Seoul’s Unification Ministry said the North’s Foreign Ministry officials had expressed “a negative view” toward South Korea’s assistance of 50,000 tons of rice as well as the regime’s discontent with the upcoming drills during a meeting with the World Food Program, which is in charge of overseeing the project.
Seoul is waiting for Pyongyang’s formal confirmation of rejection of the assistance, while the WFP has put on hold the procedures for the delivery of food aid.
By Park Han-na (email@example.com