Tension gripped the Korean peninsula again. But this time it was not only the bellicose northern neighbor who decided to launch missiles, but so did South Korea, an unusual gesture that shows an escalation in the region that, so far, seems to be far from solving its differences.
Seoul announced that it tested a submarine-fired ballistic missile (SLBM), becoming the first country without nuclear weapons to develop a similar system. The incident occurred hours after North Korea launched two missiles that landed in the sea, off its east coast.
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“South Korea wants to give a political message to Pyongyang and China ”, explained to Trade the expert on North Korea, Ramon Pacheco Pardo, Professor of International Relations at King’s College London and directs the Korea Chair at the School of Government of the Free University of Brussels.
“It is not usual for South Korea to fire missiles.” Why this time it has? What is the message you want to give?
I do not think that South Korea I would have planned the launch right after I did North Korea because there is usually a window of days for it and it is given according to the weather conditions. What has changed this time is that Seoul has announced it publicly, because many times in which it has carried out tests it has not done it. This time they have indicated that the president was present and that it is a new type of technology since they have launched it from a submarine. It is more of a political message to North Korea that it is not the only one with missiles, and that the South Korean missiles are at the same technological level and that they would soon even surpass them because they have more money and better technology. The message from South Korea is that even if it does not have nuclear weapons, it can respond to any provocation from North Korea.
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“South Korea has announced that it is developing a supersonic missile.” Are you advancing your arms race? What is your strategy?
Until a few months ago, South Korea had an agreement with the United States that limited the development of its missile program. Now with the Biden administration they decided that the agreement did not stand, so South Korea can develop its weapons autonomously without any restrictions. It was known that it had the ability to develop it quickly, and it is what they are doing, not only for North Korea but also for China, which is the other great threat that South Korea has. That is also the message they are giving: that are preparing to deal with North Korea and also with China.
“What response could one expect now from North Korea?”
I think there will be one more rehearsal of North Korea, I imagine they will answer because it is what they usually do and they could not sit idly by.
– Tensions seemed to have lowered and this occurs in a context in which Kim Jong-un appears little. What is North Korea’s strategy now, especially now that the international focus has turned to Afghanistan?
I imagine that North Korea it will continue with the borders closed due to the pandemic. Kim Jong-un It has been a long time since he sent as many messages, but his sister or some other North Korean leader did more. In fact, It was his sister who commented this time that the South Korean launch was a provocation. However, the door remains open for a possible new round of negotiations between the two Koreas and the United States, because at some point they will sit down to talk in the coming months.
– Could the dialogue between North Korea and the United States be resumed?
Yes. The Biden administration has implied that they are willing to dialogue and the South Korean government as well, so depends on North Korea. They would have to access either by opening their borders or through a videoconference. It is not yet known when they will want to sit down and negotiate.
“There is always speculation about Kim Jong-un’s health.” Why this secrecy around him lately?
His appearances come and go. At times he has been out more frequently and has released more messages, and at other times he has disappeared. This has been the dynamics in these years. It seems that his recent sporadic appearances are connected to his health, because he is thinner than he was previously, but it is speculation.
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