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Seoul treads lightly around Pyongyang’s ‘ballistic’ missile

The wrecked inter-Korean liaison office building in the North Korean city of Gaesong is seen from the Dorasan Checkpoint in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
The wrecked inter-Korean liaison office building in the North Korean city of Gaesong is seen from the Dorasan Checkpoint in Paju, Gyeonggi Province, on Wednesday. (Yonhap)
Cheong Wa Dae on Wednesday continued to exercise caution regarding North Korea’s latest missile test, while the US and Japan have condemned Pyongyang for firing what appears to be a ballistic missile, a violation of UN resolutions.

“We cannot predict anything for now,” Park Soo-hyun, President Moo Jae-in’s senior secretary for public communication, told a radio interview with KBS.

“Every single action North Korea takes is open to interpretation as it always contains subtle messages toward the US and South Korea. A comprehensive analysis is still underway.”

Earlier in the day, North Korea claimed it had succeeded in test-firing its first hypersonic missile on Tuesday.

Hypersonic missiles are ready for use as quickly as solid-fuel missiles, making them harder to intercept. North Korea touted the new type of missile was one of the “five most important” new weapons systems laid out in its five-year military development plan.

The US and Japan said the test violated multiple UN Security Council resolutions. South Korea also expressed “regret” over the launch but did not confirm the missile type, citing an ongoing analysis.

Under UN resolutions, North Korea is banned from testing or launching nuclear weapons or ballistic missiles.

Experts said South Korea left room for diplomacy with the reclusive regime by releasing a toned-down statement amid its budding efforts to resume inter-Korean talks.

“With the latest missile launch, North Korea is testing South Korea’s will to improve ties,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at University of North Korean Studies in Seoul. North Korea has accused the South of its “double standards” over military activities.

“If we condemned the missile launch as usual, North Korea could think that ‘nothing has changed’ and is more likely to refuse any overture. But it remains to be seen whether the North will respond to the low-profile approach positively,” he said.

While condemning the missile launch, the US State Department also said it remained committed to a diplomatic approach to North Korea, urging the country to engage in dialogue.

Cheong Wa Dae had hoped to use the momentum created by Moon’s UN speech last week, when the president called for declaring a formal end to the 1950-53 Korean War, with North Korea seemingly responding positively to the offer over the weekend.

On Saturday, Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, said the country would consider holding a summit and declaring an end-of-war if certain conditions were met.

Her statement, one of the most conciliatory from the North in years, raised cautious hopes that North Korea had renewed its eagerness for dialogue. But the North’s back-to-back missile tests appeared to be thwarting such expectations.

The latest launch marked North Korea’s third missile test this month alone. The country has revealed a new type of cruise missile, as well as a new train-launched ballistic missile system.

For now, South Korean authorities seemed to be ramping up efforts to open the severed inter-Korean communication channels, a top priority ahead of resuming the stalled talks. The hotlines were briefly restored in late July but the North has not answered Seoul’s regular daily calls, again in protest against the then-planned joint military drills by South Korea and the US.

Despite Kim Yo-jong’s statement suggesting the country wished to restore the hotlines, North Korea remained unresponsive to Seoul’s calls via liaison and military channels.

By Lee Ji-yoon (jylee@heraldcorp.com)
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