North Korea claims to have tested a spy satellite
State media said on Sunday that North Korea had conducted “another significant test” of its reconnaissance satellite development, but analysts warned it was a veiled ballistic missile launch, just days before South Korea elected a new president.
From hypersonic ballistic missiles to medium-range ballistic missiles, Pyongyang tested a series of banned weapons in January and last week launched what it claimed was a “reconnaissance satellite” – although Seoul described it as another ballistic missile.
North Korea is under severe international sanctions for its nuclear weapons programs, but satellite launches for peaceful purposes are not subject to the same level of restrictions – even though they use much of the same technology.
The development of a military reconnaissance satellite – along with hypersonic weapons tested in January – is officially one of Pyongyang’s major defense projects, leader Kim Jong-un made clear last year.
“The DPRK’s National Aerospace Development Administration (NADA) and the Academy of Defense Sciences conducted another important test on Saturday as part of the plan to develop a reconnaissance satellite,” the Korean Central News Agency said, using the acronyms bearing the North’s official name.
“Through testing, the National Anti-Doping Agency confirmed the reliability of the satellite data transmission and reception system, the control command system and the various ground control systems,” she added.
South Korea said on Saturday it believed the test – which came just days before the country voted to elect a new president on Wednesday – was a ballistic missile launch.
Pyongyang has doubled down on leader Kim’s efforts to modernize its military as it ignores US offers for talks and threatens to drop an optional moratorium on long-range missiles and nuclear weapons.
“Since satellites and ICBMs are the same inside and out, a satellite launch will bring the Korean Peninsula back to the height of tensions it experienced in 2017,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul.
But Yang added that the two tests this month could also be a message to Washington – a way for Pyongyang to tacitly seek concessions so that North Korea does not have to cross a “red line” to launch an ICBM.
Pyongyang has been observing a self-imposed moratorium on tests of intercontinental ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons since leader Kim Jong Un embarked on a wave of high-level diplomatic relations with then-US President Donald Trump in 2017.
The talks later collapsed and diplomacy has since waned, despite efforts by the administration of US President Joe Biden to view the talks.
“There is uncertainty for North Korea if it crosses the red line as it has no idea how the Biden administration will respond,” said Park Won-joon, a professor at Ewa Women’s University in Seoul.
Moreover, with the war in Ukraine dominating the global headlines, NorthKoreadoes do not want to be overshadowed.
“Pyongyang will want to conduct a launch at a time and environment in which it can attract the most attention,” Park added.
Lim Yeol-chul, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul, said the upcoming presidential election in South Korea appears to raise “Pyongyang’s security concerns.”
Analysts say tensions with North Korea are no longer a major issue in South Korea’s elections, with domestic income inequality and youth unemployment topping voter lists.
But one of the leading candidates, former Prosecutor General Yoon Seok-yeol of the opposition People’s Power Party, has threatened a preemptive strike on nuclear-armed South Korea’s neighbor if necessary.
“It seems that Pyongyang finds it difficult to expect progress in inter-Korean relations no matter who becomes president, and firmly believes that strengthening self-defense is best,” Lim added.
Domestically, North Korea is preparing to celebrate the 110th anniversary of the birth of late founder Kim Il Sung in April, which experts say Pyongyang could use as an opportunity to conduct a major weapons test or launch a satellite.
Recent satellite images analyzed by specialist website 38North indicate that the country may be preparing for a military parade to display its weapons to mark the key anniversary.
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