North Korea should refrain from raising tension
North Korea has again tried to raise military tension on the Korean Peninsula by testing long-range cruise missiles. The North's state-run Korea Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Monday that the launches took place Saturday and Sunday.
The agency said new cruise missiles traveled for about 126 minutes and successfully hit targets 1,500 kilometers away. It added that the launches were part of the North's efforts to develop strategic weapons under its current five-year military buildup plan.
Cruise missiles are not subject to U.N. Security Council sanctions against the North, although the country is banned from developing ballistic missiles. However, we must express concern as well as regret over the cruise missile test, because such a weapon poses a security threat to South Korea and its neighbors. Cruise missiles, which are hard to detect since they fly at low altitudes, can carry nuclear warheads.
The missile tests were seen as a low-level show of force, conducted without the presence of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. It came after the North launched two cruise missiles on March 21 and Jan. 22, and two ballistic missiles on March 25. Pyongyang appears to be using these repeated missile tests to put more pressure on the U.S. to accede to its demands for sanctions relief.
The Kim regime might also be trying to send a certain message before trilateral talks were held in Tokyo, Tuesday, between the top nuclear envoys of South Korea, the U.S. and Japan. Seoul's negotiator Noh Kyu-duk met with his U.S. and Japanese counterparts, Sung Kim and Takehiro Funakoshi, to discuss how to restart dialogue with North Korea. The latest missile launch also came before Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi's two-day visit to Seoul which started Tuesday.
We urge Pyongyang to stop its military provocations so as to help create a favorable atmosphere for the resumption of stalled denuclearization talks with Washington. The North's display of its military strength could derail efforts by the U.S. and its ally South Korea to resume dialogue.
North Korea is now reportedly going through difficulties due to the global spread of the COVID-19 pandemic, an acute shortage of food and its economic failure amid prolonged international sanctions. That is probably why the North held a scaled-down military parade Thursday night to celebrate the 73rd anniversary of the country's foundation. Kim is apparently trying to tighten his grip on power and cement internal unity by boosting his country's military strength. Yet the question is if the North can muddle through without any assistance from other countries.
Regrettably, however, the North is still reluctant to return to the negotiating table. It appears to have restarted its plutonium-producing reactor in the Yongbyon nuclear complex north of Pyongyang, according to the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA). It is wrong for the North to attempt to turn the clock back and restart its nuclear gamble.
The Kim regime should realize that abandoning its nuclear program holds the key to peace, coexistence and co-prosperity on the peninsula. It needs to positively respond to a package of humanitarian assistance proposed by Seoul and Washington to help North Koreans improve their livelihoods. And the North must return to the dialogue table before it is too late.