North Korea has chosen a direly critical moment to buttress its nuclear potential. Yet it would signify the obfuscation of reality if the almost serial developments in March, most particularly on the 21st of the month when it launched two missiles in the presence of Kim Jong-un, is relegated to the footnotes.
Arguably, President Kim has also obfuscated reality as he turned up at the testing site without a face mask, even as South Korea has been battling the scourge. While the whole world is trying to ward off the threats of Covid-19, Pyongyang has been going ahead with the testing of its arsenal.
Indeed, the latest launch is the country’s fourth weapons test this month and it happened within a week of President Trump sending a letter to Kim with an offer of help to fight coronavirus. These tests, reported to have been carried out from the port city of Wonsan, involved different types of weapons including short-range ballistic missiles.
The projectiles had a range of about 140 miles and landed in the choppy waters between North Korea and Japan. The test-firing has probably unnerved South Korea, which has described it as “deeply inappropriate” especially when the world is battling the coronavirus pandemic. With America reeling under the dreadful scourge, Donald Trump is yet to respond.
In normal times, the Western bloc would have ramped up the pressure on the North. Even the South’s response has been relatively mild, requesting its neighbour to desist from such acts. The North has launched short-range ballistic missiles, similar to a variety used by the Americans. There is little doubt that in the midst of the crisis that confronts humanity, the hermit kingdom has restarted its military training.
Its renewed confidence in matters nuclear appears to be embedded in the fact that coronavirus has somehow spared North Korea, which shares its boundary with China. Pyongyang claims that it does not have any case, a claim that will have to be confirmed by the World Health Organization. The North cannot be expected to share details even in the wake a coronavirus outbreak, if any.
It is a secretive state and it shall not be easy for WHO to ferret out the truth. Nor for that matter has Kim responded to President Trump’s offer of assistance, should the need arise. The North launched its eighth and ninth missiles this month, indeed the maximum number of missiles in a month. It was only in 2016 and the following year that such tests had been conducted so frequently.
These tests can be contextualised with Kim’s assertion that a new “strategic weapon” could be unveiled this year. The UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on North Korea because of its missile and nuclear weapons programmes.
These are hurting the country’s economy and it will have to take a decision to abandon these activities. That has been the gist of talks held between President Trump and President Kim in Singapore, Hanoi and the DMZ. A solution has eluded both leaders, however.