North Korea It began in 2022 with an unprecedented number of missile tests for years, a display of force due more to domestic politics than diplomatic strategy, according to experts.
After a decade in power, leader Kim Jong Un has little cause for satisfaction. International sanctions have brought its economy to its knees, the closure of borders due to the COVID-19 it has caused food shortages and the regime’s talks with the United States are at an impasse.
These different factors could explain why North Korea has carried out five weapons tests in the last three weeks, a spectacular display of the military achievements of this nuclear-armed country ahead of major national anniversaries.
“Missiles and weapons of war are probably the only successes that Kim Jong can boast about,” says Ahn Chan-il, a turncoat-turned-investigator. “For now, it doesn’t have much more to offer the North Korean people,” he says.
But the country is preparing to celebrate the 80th birth anniversary of Kim’s father, the late leader Kim Jong Il, in February, and then the 110th birthday of Kim Il Sung, the country’s founding leader, in April.
In North Korea’s dynastic system, it is politically crucial to dress these anniversaries with the proper “greatness,” says Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute’s Center for North Korean Studies.
Thus, military parades are organized on these dates to display the new weapons, in an exhibition of their military capacity added to the general festivities.
Pyongyang has not conducted intercontinental ballistic or nuclear weapons tests since 2017, when the country began a series of high-level diplomatic meetings, notably with then-US President Donald Trump.
But last week, the regime declared that it was contemplating resuming these temporarily suspended activities, in response to new US sanctions after the first tests earlier in the year.
The last time that North Korea did so many tests in a month was in 2019, after the failure of the highly mediatic negotiations between Pyongyang and the United States.
While some reports speak of a sharp rise in food prices and a worsening of hunger in North Korea, the Pyongyang regime revived earlier this month cross-border trade with China.
And Pyongyang’s recent decision to accept Chinese aid — for the first time since the start of the pandemic — may have prompted the recent show of military force “to avoid appearing weak,” estimates Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University. from Seoul.
The recent series of launches is unlikely to goad the administration of US President Joe Biden into negotiations, he says. North Korea “doesn’t seem interested in negotiations,” he says.
The diplomatic cost of the recent launches is minimal, thanks to the support of China, which sees North Korea as a useful “buffer” in a region of many US allies, such as Japan and South Korea, says Yang Moo-jin. , professor at the university of North Korean studies.
China will block any attempt to impose new sanctions on North Korea over short-range missile tests, but if the regime carries out its threat to resume nuclear tests or long-range launches, it will be “almost impossible” for Beijing to help. to the North Korean regime, according to the expert.
Washington, for its part, is willing to negotiate. The Biden administration has been “very clear” that it has “no hostile intent,” State Department spokesman Ned Price said Tuesday.
But the chance of real progress on the diplomatic front is slim to none, according to Jenny Town, a research fellow at the Stimson Center in Washington.
“The United States has missed opportunities to try to bring the North Koreans back to the negotiating table,” says this researcher.
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