Kim Jong-un’s message to Joe Biden
North Korea has performed its first significant military action since Joe Biden’s inauguration, in what’s been regarded as Kim Jong-un’s first challenge to the new US President.
According to three US officials, the regime carried out a weapons test over the weekend, launching two short-range projectiles, in a move that was widely expected since Pentagon chief Lloyd Austin and Secretary of State Antony Blinken’s first overseas trip.
The pair arrived in Japan early last week, on a visit aimed at rallying military alliances as a bulwark against China and cementing a united front against the nuclear-armed North Korea with visits to key allies in Tokyo and South Korea.
First reported by The Washington Post, the launches mark the first known weapons test by North Korea since Joe Biden took office in January, and come while his administration mulls its options for dealing with the regime’s nuclear threat.
The fact that they were possibly artillery or cruise missiles, not ballistic missiles, was “a key distinction that underscores the Biden administration’s view that it does not qualify as a serious breach and will not prevent the US from pursuing diplomacy with Pyongyang”, one US official told CNN.
“We do not want to see the activity that took place this weekend as closing that door,” the senior official said, referring to future attempts at diplomacy.
Mr Biden, meanwhile, told reporters before he boarded Air Force One that in the test being performed, “we have learned that there’s nothing much that’s changed”.
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Senior officials reportedly downplayed the seriousness of North Korea’s actions, but reiterated that American forces in the region are always prepared and on high alert.
“It would be hard to find a place on the planet where there is more vigilance than the circumstance and situation surrounding North Korea. Our forces are always prepared, always on high alert,” another senior official told the network.
“It is common for North Korea to test various systems … we do not publicly respond to every kind of test,” a senior administration official added.
“This is a system that is not covered by the UN Security Council resolutions. It is a normal part of the testing North Korea would do. We do not believe it is in our best interest to hype these things in circumstances in which we would consider those activities as part of a ‘normal’ set of a tense military environment like we see on the Korean Peninsula.”
KIM YO JONG’S WORD OF WARNING
Key US allies are eagerly awaiting details about Mr Biden’s North Korea policy, which is expected to be announced publicly in the coming weeks when the administration has completed a policy review, sources familiar with the internal discussions told CNN.
Last week, Kim’s influential sister, Kim Yo Jong – a key advisor to her brother – offered “a word of advice to the new administration of the United States that is struggling to spread the smell of gunpowder on our land”.
“If it wants to sleep in peace for (the) coming four years, it had better refrain from causing a stink at its first step,” she said, according to Pyongyang’s official Rodong Sinmum newspaper.
In response, both Mr Blinken and Mr Austin reaffirmed America’s commitment to the “complete denuclearisation of North Korea”, and to creating opportunities for further co-operation among the US, Japan and South Korea, the pair said in a statement from the US State Department.
EXPERTS WARN OF NEW INTERNATIONAL SECURITY THREAT
After years of relative harmony on the Korean peninsula, the Council on Foreign Relations’ annual Preventive Priorities Survey of foreign policy experts warned an alarming new North Korean crisis could be looming in 2021.
While the nation dropped off the radar recently following three years of tentative peace during the Trump administration, Scott A Snyder, a senior fellow for Korea studies and director of the program on US-Korea policy at CFR, insisted the danger never actually went away.
“President Obama warned president-elect Trump in November 2016 that the most vexing international security threat he would face would emanate from North Korea,” he wrote following the release of the survey.
“Two nuclear tests, myriad long-range missile tests, and three Trump-Kim summits later, the magnitude and likelihood of North Korea posing a catastrophic threat to US national interests is greater than it was four years ago.”
University of Sydney professor in International Relations, Justin Hastings, told news.com.au every weapons test from North Korea posed a potential risk.
“North Korea has been developing increasingly sophisticated nuclear weapons and long-range missiles … and every time they test them it can lead to instability in the region,” he said.
“The US and its allies and the UN impose sanctions but at the same time North Korea behaves very provocatively.
“They staged drills 10 years ago which actually likely sank a South Korean warship … and every time they test a weapon there’s a potential for the breakout of war as there’s always a chance of miscalculation, or that they will push too far and the US won’t take any more.”
– with Alexis Carey