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NK brands end to missile range limits as hostile policy

South Korean missiles are on display at the Korean War Memorial in Seoul. (Yonhap)
South Korean missiles are on display at the Korean War Memorial in Seoul. (Yonhap)

North Korea on Monday slammed the US for terminating guidelines that have restricted Seoul’s development of ballistic missiles as a “stark reminder” of Washington’s hostile approach to Pyongyang. 

This marked Pyongyang’s first reaction to the May 21 summit between President Moon Jae-in and US President Joe Biden, during which the US decided to abolish the decadeslong guidelines that had put limits on Korea’s missile development program, allowing Seoul to build and possess any type of weapons from now on.

“(The US) is engrossed in confrontation despite its lip-service to dialogue,” the Korea Central News Agency said in an article, penned by Kim Myong-chol, an international affairs critic. “The termination step is a stark reminder of the US’ hostile policy toward the DPRK and its shameful double-dealing.”

DPRK refers to the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

“The US is mistaken, however. It is a serious blunder for it to pressure the DPRK by creating asymmetric imbalance in and around the Korean Peninsula as this may lead to the acute and instable situation on the Korean Peninsula now technically at war,” he said.

North Korea’s target is the US, not the South Korean army, it said, adding it will counter the US on the “principle of strength.”

The missile guideline was first signed in 1979, when South Korea sought to secure US missile technologies for its own development. In return, US capped the limits on the flight range to 180 kilometers and the maximum payload to 500 kilograms, amid Washington’s concerns about a regional arms race.

Over the years, there were multiple revisions to meet evolving threats from the North, with the latest range extended to 800 kilometers and the payload cap scrapped.

Observers have hailed the lifting as Seoul gaining “missile sovereignty,” but others also view it as part of the US’ strategy to counter China and North Korea.

The latest termination decision could add more tension on the Korean Peninsula, experts say, amid stalled denuclearization talks between the US and North Korea, as well as deadlocked inter-Korean ties.

“South Korean progressives often express a willingness to cancel defense exercises with the United States in order to focus on diplomatically engaging North Korea. But Seoul’s discontinuation of guidelines that had limited its missile capabilities may be a greater source of friction in pursuing peace with Pyongyang,” said Leif-Eric Easley, an associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University. “From Pyongyang’s perspective, this looks like an expensive arms race. The Kim regime will continue to complain about South Korean ‘hypocrisy’ and US ‘hostility’ while advancing its own missile programs.”

The report also lashed out at Moon for welcoming the lifting of the guidelines, calling it “disgusting and indecent.”

“Now that the US and the South Korean authorities made clear their ambition of aggression, they are left with no reasons whatsoever to fault the DPRK bolstering its capabilities for self-defense,” the report said.

The Unification Ministry, in charge of inter-Korean affairs, on Monday said it will continue to carefully watch the North’s reaction, but declined to comment on the report further, since the remarks were attributed to an individual and not an official statement from the government.

By Ahn Sung-mi (sahn@heraldcorp.com)
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