|North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and his daughter Ju-ae inspect the development of the Hwasong-12, an intermediate-range ballistic missile, at an unspecified location in North Korea, in this photo released Sunday. Yonhap|
By Jung Min-ho
|Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst on North Korea at the Sejong Institute|
According to Cheong Seong-chang, a senior analyst on North Korea at the Sejong Institute, a think tank, leader Kim Jong-un will likely order the test to be held no later than Feb. 16, the anniversary of the birth of his father, Kim Jong-il. If not, two other likely dates for testing would be his own birthday (Jan. 8) or the 75th anniversary of the founding of the Korean People's Army (Feb. 8), North Korea's military forces.
"Compared with Kim's previous New Year's remarks, which highlighted the country's economic growth, he emphasized strengthening the military and nuclear weapons this time. A nuclear test is expected soon to back up his message," Cheong told The Korea Times Monday.
He was one of the experts who predicted that the North would be less likely to push for a nuclear test in 2022, the year of a politically crucial event for China's President Xi Jinping ― the 20th National Congress of its Communist Party where he secured a precedent-defying third term in power.
"The prediction that North Korea would push ahead with a nuclear test before the midterms in the United States in November was wrong, perhaps because it ignored the North's politics. If the past is any guide, North Korea conducted nuclear tests on or just prior to politically meaningful days," Cheong said. "If the North does not conduct a test in January or February, it could be delayed to July 27, the anniversary of the Korean War armistice signing, which is called 'the Day of Victory in the Great Fatherland Liberation War' in North Korea, or later."
Speaking on New Year's Eve during a plenary session of the ruling Workers' Party's review of 2022, Kim called for an "exponential increase" in his country's nuclear weapons against the "maximum" level of military threats from Seoul and Washington. He then presented a task to develop a more reliable intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with a nuclear capability, which, if successful, would allow the regime to present a more realistic nuclear threat to the U.S.
In another striking claim, Kim said North Korea is already equipped with a 600mm super-large multiple launch rocket system that can hit anywhere in South Korea with nuclear warheads.
|A New Year event is held at Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang, North Korea, Sunday. AP-Yonhap|
All of these comments suggest unprecedented levels of nuclear challenges for South Korea. With China and Russia determined to veto any U.S.-led attempt to impose further sanctions on North Korea, its next nuclear test will put not just President Yoon Suk-yeol's leadership but also the Seoul-Washington alliance to the test, as the U.S. might be more concerned about its ICBMs than nuclear weapons, Cheong said.
To counter the intensifying missile and nuclear threats from the North, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) announced Monday that it launched a new division.
The Directorate of Countering Nuclear and WMD (other weapons of mass destruction) will lead South Korea's efforts to strengthen its missile defense, Kill Chain preemptive strike and Massive Punishment and Retaliation systems against such threats.
Maj. Gen. Park Hu-soung, the inaugural head of the body, said in a statement that he will try his best for the mission, vowing to build "overwhelming" capabilities.