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N. Korea's projectile launch is 'strategic provocation'

Posted August. 28, 2017 08:10,   

Updated August. 28, 2017 08:42


North Korea launched three short-range projectiles into the East Sea for 30 minutes from 6:49 a.m. on Saturday, the sixth day into the South Korea-U.S. Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) joint military exercise. The launch site, Gitdaeryong, located near the eastern city of Wonsan, is home to the North's base for the short-range Scud and mid-range Rodong missiles. One of the projectiles exploded soon after launch, while the other two flew about 250 kilometers before plunging into the East Sea.

On the same day, North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency reported on leader Kim Jong Un inspecting the North Korean special forces' simulated invasion of South Korean islands of Baengnyeong and Daeyeonpyeong near the tense western border. The inspection took place on August 25, the anniversary of the late leader Kim Jong Il's declaration of the "military-first politics," which puts top priority on the military. At the simulated exercise, where all of the North's top military brass was present, the North Korean leader said that the military "should think of mercilessly wiping out the enemy with arms only and occupying Seoul at one go and the southern half of Korea."

However, South Korean President Moon Jae-in did not attend a National Security Council meeting held at the presidential office Cheong Wa Dae on the following day. Instead, he held a luncheon with lawmakers of the ruling Democratic Party, having thick beef bone soup with them as a symbol of a "thick relationship" between the president and his party. "Eval‎uations of (policies regarding) South-North relations don't come out quickly," he said at the meeting.

Three hours after the U.S. Pacific Command said the projectiles were apparently ballistic missiles, however, Cheong Wa Dae said that the unidentified projectiles fired by the North today are presumed to be improved 300-mm artillery rockets from a multiple-rocket launcher. As controversies arose over the differences between Seoul and Washington in their analyses of the North Korean projectiles, a senior Cheong Wa Dae official said, "What is important is that (the projectiles) were clearly not inter-continental ballistic missiles. It is clear that (the launch) had nothing to do with strategic provocation."

Be it ballistic missiles or artillery shots, both Seoul and Washington confirmed that the projectiles flew 250 kilometers. If launched near the military demarcation line between the two Koreas, the projectiles can have within their range the entire area around Seoul and even the South Korean military headquarters in South Chungcheong Province. It is highly likely that the South's five border islands, including Baengnyeong and Daeyeonpyeong, will become the frontline in the event of a war between the two Koreas. It could be rash to regard the launch as an ordinary military drill rather than a strategic provocation.

President Moon mentioned several times a halt to the North's nuclear and missile provocation as a condition for resuming dialogue with Pyongyang. It is probably because of the remarks that Cheong Wa Dae said the North Korean projectiles were not missiles. However, the North's official Rodong Sinmun newspaper cited President Moon's remarks, claiming that it would be "wise" for him to "shut his mouth" about the North's nuclear and missile program. It is time for Seoul to show its steadfast defense posture by completing the development of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense anti-missile system.

Su-Jin Cho jin0619@donga.com