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North reaffirms satellite launch plan

Oct. 3, 2023 - 17:27 By Choi Si-young
The flags of South Korea (left) and North Korea. (123rf)

North Korea reaffirmed that it will launch a military reconnaissance satellite this month, the state-run Korean Central News Agency said Tuesday.

The third attempt to put the satellite into orbit after two previous failures, each in May and August, could take place as early as next week when the regime marks the founding of the country’s ruling Workers’ Party. Leader Kim Jong-un has used such events to tout his achievement.

The regime -- banned by United Nations Security Council resolutions from using ballistic missile technology, also used in satellites, because of its nuclear weapons programs -- is doubling down on advancing its weapons, having unveiled in early September a submarine capable of tactical nuclear attacks.

Later the same month, Kim met with Russian President Vladimir Putin, the first summit in four years. It took place in Russia’s Far East and was immediately followed by Kim’s trips to weapons plants in the eastern cities of Komsomolsk-on-Amur and Vladivostok.

The US has accused Kim of supplying munitions to aid Moscow’s war in Ukraine in arms deals that would in return offer Pyongyang weapons technologies like satellites and submarines. Washington and Seoul, citing UN sanctions barring such weapons transfers, have warned of making the North “pay a price” for pushing to make them happen.

Domestically, Kim is stepping up efforts for what the two allies consider aggression. Last week, the Supreme People’s Assembly, the North’s rubber-stamp legislature, decided to write into the constitution the policy of exponentially growing nuclear forces.

“It was a strategic decision by the party and the government that we should continue to strengthen our nuclear forces,” Kim said during the session, accusing South Korea, the US and Japan of forming Asia’s NATO, the Western military alliance. The three nations shook hands on a security pledge at their historic summit in August.

The latest show of defiance against the US-led coalition underscores the growing impasse over restarting disarmament negotiations in which the North would be given economic aid in exchange for dismantling its nuclear arsenal. Pyongyang has demanded sanctions relief first, which Washington has refused.

On Monday, the North released a statement criticizing a resolution the International Atomic Energy Agency adopted Friday urging the regime to disarm. Recognizing the North as a nuclear weapons state is now “irreversible,” the statement said, calling out the UN nuclear watchdog for giving into US-led pressure to pass the resolution.

The same day, US State Department spokesperson Matthew Miller called on China to help bring back North Korea to dialogue.

“China is uniquely positioned to use its influence with the DPRK to urge the DPRK to take de-escalatory steps and to urge the DPRK to return to diplomacy,” Miller said at a press briefing, using the acronym of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

China, historically the largest benefactor backing the North, is hosting a high-level global forum this month, where Chinese President Xi Jinping is expected to meet with Putin for policy alignment to respond to the US and its allies. The Belt and Road Forum for International Cooperation, to be held from Oct. 17-18, is born out of Xi’s signature Belt and Road infrastructure program to bolster China’s clout in Asia, Africa and Latin America.