North Korea fired a ballistic missile off of its east coast this past Wednesday. Coincidentally enough, that was the day before President Trump was set to host China’s President Xi Jinping for their first summit meeting, carried out at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida.
While no official motive was identified by North Korea regarding the timing of their missile test, it was likely chosen to highlight differences between Trump and Xi in deciding how to interact with the alarmingly unpredictable North Korean government.
As China has been North Korea’s closest ally over the past decades, the choice of North Korea to conduct these missile tests just before the summit is a source of embarrassment for Xi in his condition of being the current leader of China. China is presently the source of 90% of North Korea’s trade, and is also a main supplier of oil to the controversial nation.
However, in the opinion of the U.S. federal government, China appears to be reluctant to make use of this great economic leverage in a manner that would enable them to impede North Korea’s expanding nuclear and missile threats.
The attitude of the United States towards North Korea can best be described by Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, who said in a statement that, “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.”
The ballistic missile tests carried out this past week elicited no strong instantaneous reaction from state news media in China. Xi was in Finland at the time of the tests.
Contrastingly, the South Korean government had a concrete initial reaction as acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn immediately ordered a meeting of security cabinet ministers in Seoul to analyze the test and discuss North Korea’s increasing missile threat.
As part of the test, the missile was fired from Sinpo, a town on the east coast of North Korea, and it flew roughly 37 miles prior to splashing into the sea, according to a statement released by the South Korean military.
Initial assessments suggested that the type of missile utilized was a KN-15, according to spokesman for the United States Pacific Command, Commander David Benham of the Navy. KN-15 is the named used by the United States to refer to Pukguksong-2, which is a new nuclear-capable immediate-range ballistic missile tested by North Korea for the first time in February.
Interestingly enough, this February missile launch took place while Trump was hosting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan, also at his Mar-a-Lago estate.
In reference to the most recent missile launch, Benham has declared that, “The North American Aerospace Defense Command determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America.” Thus, despite the symbolical timing, the missile testing was incapable of posing a tangible threat to the United States,
This was the first test North Korea had undertaken since a launch on March 22nd. That test, however, was considered a failure as the projectile exploded within seconds of the launch, according to both American and South Korean defense authorities.
Regardless, the Wednesday missile launch was an attempt on the part of North Korea to attract global attention, and concern from certain parties, to its ever-growing missile and nuclear weapons threats a day before the summit meeting between the United States and China. To Trump, the test is just one more reminder that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has the intention of developing a long-range missile that will one day be able to carry a nuclear warhead across the Pacific.
Prior to the summit meeting, Trump put more pressure on China by saying it was time for Beijing to rein in its Communist ally. In an interview given on Sunday to The Financial Times, Trump declared that, “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.” Characteristically, he did not, however, specify how he planned to do so.
Despite the increased pressure, China has continually advocated that the United States should re-engage North Korea in dialogue and appeal to diplomatic dialogue to reach a compromise, and thus avoid physical and nuclear conflict.
Analysts say that independent of its annoyance regarding North Korean nuclear programs, China has no desire to destabilize its government as that might spark conflict on the Korean Peninsula, which would result in a mass of refugees heading to northeastern China.
It is probable that another missile test by North Korea will be utilized by Trump and Xi to support their opposing opinions on how to deal with North Korea.
Since 2006, North Korea has conducted various nuclear and ballistic missile tests with the goal of developing a small and curated nuclear warhead and an intercontinental ballistic missile able to reach targets as far as The United States.
The major concern regarding the successful launch of the Pukguksong-2 in February is that American experts believe the solid-fuel technology it uses would make it easy for the country to conceal its arsenal in its many tunnels and then launch missiles on very short notice. Thus, North Korea would have the ability to catch other international powers by surprise.
With its simultaneous launch of 4 missiles on March 6th into the sea near Japan, North Korea attempted to concretely prove its ability to launch multiple missiles at American bases in Japan and at American aircraft carriers around the Korean Peninsula, according to South Korean defense officials.
The truly alarming aspect is that this ability to launch various missiles increasing the probability of breaching antimissile defenses.
Mainly due to North Korea’s missile and nuclear tests and Kim’s belligerent discourse, the government in Seoul has agreed to a United States proposal to install an antimissile system in South Korea. The deployment of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (Thaad) began this past March, and the announcement was made a day after the North Korean launch of the four missiles.
China, which had long considered the Thaad system a risk to its own security and heavily opposed it, warned that the deployment in Seongju, South Korea, could spark a new arms race. China’s state-controlled news media, in heated editorials, encouraged the boycott of South Korean products. This resulted in protests against South Korean businesses in China and canceled tours to South Korea.
The Thaad system also has not won universal approval within South Korea. Moon Jae-in, a liberal candidate running to replace the impeached conservative president, Park Geun-hye, has expressed unease over the Thaad system, referring to China’s outrage.
Featured Image via Wikipedia.