SEOUL — The signals are confusing. One day, North Korea is raising hopes for dialogue with South Korea, and the next, it is firing missiles or showing off the latest weaponry in its nuclear arsenal.
In the past week alone, North suggested the possibility of inter-Korean summit talks and said it would reopen communication hotlines with its neighbor. It also fired long-range cruise missiles, trotted out what it called its first hypersonic missile and, on Thursday, tested a new antiaircraft missile. Earlier in September, it launched ballistic missiles from a train rolled out of a mountain tunnel, on the same day that it called the South’s president, Moon Jae-in, “stupid.”
Once again, North Korea is turning to a well-honed, two-pronged strategy, designed to let it flex its military muscles without risking retaliation or nixing the chances for dialogue.
In the absence of talks with Washington, the missile tests reminded the world that North Korea is developing increasingly sophisticated weaponry capable of delivering nuclear warheads. But individually, these short-range or still-under-development missiles don’t amount to a direct threat to the United States.
met with then-President Donald J. Trump three times between 2018 and 2019, becoming the first North Korean leader to hold a summit with a sitting American president. But his diplomatic efforts failed to lift crippling sanctions the United Nations imposed on his impoverished country after its nuclear and I.C.B.M. tests. Soon the pandemic hit, further hamstringing the North’s economy.
American and South Korean officials had hoped that the North’s deepening economic troubles, caused by the double whammy of sanctions and the pandemic, would make North Korea more amenable to dialogue.
So far, Mr. Kim has proved them wrong.
Since his talks with Mr. Trump collapsed in early 2019, he has vowed to slog through the economic difficulties while expanding his nuclear arsenal, his country’s single best diplomatic leverage and deterrent against what it considers American threats to topple its government. By demonstrating his country’s growing military capabilities, Mr. Kim has also sought to legitimize his rule at a time when he has been able to deliver little on the economic front to his long-suffering people.
The antiaircraft missile test on Thursday indicated that the North is building a weapon similar to Russia’s S-400, one of the most potent air-defense systems in the world, according to Kim Dong-yub, an expert on North Korean weapons at the University of North Korean Studies.
The Biden administration has repeatedly urged North Korea to return to talks without preconditions. But Mr. Kim said he would not restart negotiations until he was convinced that Washington was ready to ease sanctions and its “hostile policy,” including the joint annual military exercises it conducts with South Korea.
an arms race in the region.
Mr. Kim can’t really attempt shocking provocations like the ones he conducted in 2017 — three I.C.B.M. tests and a nuclear test — that brought the Trump administration to the table. Such tests would sharply raise tensions, invite more U.N. sanctions and potentially invoke the ire of China by ruining the mood for the Beijing Winter Olympics in February.
desperate to put his Korean Peninsula peace process, his signature foreign policy, back on track before his single, five-year term ends in May.
“It’s our government’s destiny” to pursue dialogue with the North, Mr. Moon told reporters last week, referring to his efforts to build peace through his three meetings with Mr. Kim in 2018 and his efforts to help arrange the summit meetings between Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump.
This week, Mr. Kim also offered conciliatory words toward South Korea.
“We have neither aim nor reason to provoke South Korea and no idea to harm it,” he said.
North Korea was wooing South Korea while shunning talks with Washington, said Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute in South Korea. Other analysts said North Korea was leaning on South Korea to help bring Washington to dialogue.
On Thursday, Sung Kim, the U.S. special representative for North Korea, met with his counterparts from Japan and South Korea and indicated that Washington would support humanitarian aid to North Korea as an incentive for dialogue.
Analysis doubted that it would be enough.
“I am not sure that the old way of providing humanitarian shipments as an incentive will work this time, given the North’s reluctance to accept outside help during the pandemic,” said Professor Yang of the University of North Korean Studies. “North Korea wants the United States to address more fundamental issues concerning its well-being. It wants clearer commitments from the United States to easing sanctions and guaranteeing its security.”
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SEOUL — North Korea launched two ballistic missiles off its east coast on Wednesday, the country’s first ballistic missile test in six months and a violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea from conducting such tests.
Hours after the missiles were launched, South Korea announced that its president, Moon Jae-in, had just attended the test of the country’s first submarine-launched ballistic missile, making South Korea the seventh country in the world to operate S.L.B.M.s, after the United States, Russia, China, Britain, France and India.
The missile tests by both Koreas on the same day dramatically highlighted the intensifying arms race on the Korean Peninsula as nuclear disarmament talks between Washington and North Korea remained stalled. They also underscored the growing concern over regional stability, with Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga of Japan calling the North Korean missile launch “outrageous” and a threat to peace.
In its announcement, South Korea revealed that it had successfully developed a supersonic cruise missile and a long-range air-to-land missile to be mounted on the KF-21, a South Korean supersonic fighter jet, and that it had developed a ballistic missile powerful enough to penetrate North Korea’s underground wartime bunkers.
test-fired what it called newly developed long-range cruise missiles over the weekend. But the United States has not imposed fresh sanctions against the North for weapons tests in recent years. When North Korea resumed testing short-range ballistic missiles in 2019, Donald J. Trump, then the president, dismissed them for being short range.
The Biden administration has said it would explore “practical” and “calibrated” diplomacy to achieve the goal of the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But North Korea has yet to respond to the administration’s invitation to dialogue.
“Rather than strengthen sanctions and military exercises, the allies have emphasized a willingness for dialogue and humanitarian cooperation,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “The problem with less than robust responses to North Korea’s tests is that deterrence can be eroded while Pyongyang advances its capabilities and normalizes its provocations.”
The North Korean missiles on Wednesday — launched from Yangdok, in the central part of the country — flew 497 miles and reached an altitude of 37 miles before landing in the sea between North Korea and Japan, the South Korean military said. South Korean and United States defense officials were analyzing the data collected from the test to determine exactly what type of ballistic missiles were used, it said.
Japan’s Ministry of Defense issued a statement saying that it “assumed” the missile did not reach the country’s territorial waters or its exclusive economic zone.
The news of the North Korean missile test broke shortly after Foreign Minister Wang Yi of China, North Korea’s biggest supporter and only remaining major trading partner, finished a meeting with his South Korean counterpart, Chung Eui-yong, in Seoul.
“It’s not just North Korea, but other countries as well that engage in military activities,” Mr. Wang said when asked by reporters to comment on the North’s weekend cruise-missile test. “We must all work together to resume dialogue. We all hope to contribute to peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”
Mr. Wang didn’t elaborate, but appeared to be referring to the joint military exercises conducted by the United States and South Korea last month. North Korea has accused Washington and Seoul of preparing to invade the North, and usually counters joint military drills between the two allies with its own military exercise or weapons tests.
“The United States has no hostile intent toward” North Korea, Sung Kim, the Biden administration’s special envoy, said on Tuesday in Tokyo, where he met with representatives from Japan and South Korea to discuss the North’s arsenal. He said Washington hoped that North Korea would “respond positively to our multiple offers to meet without preconditions.”
The latest tests showed that North Korea continued to improve its arsenal of missiles despite a series of resolutions from the United Nations Security Council that banned North Korea from developing or testing ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons.
Tensions on the Korean Peninsula rose sharply in 2017, when North Korea tested three intercontinental ballistic missiles and conducted its sixth underground nuclear test, leading to the sanctions from the United Nations. After the tests, the country claimed an ability to target the continental United States with a nuclear warhead.
Mr. Trump met with Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, three times between 2018 and 2019, but the leaders failed to reach an agreement on lifting sanctions or rolling back the North’s nuclear and missile programs. Mr. Kim has since vowed to boost his country’s weapons capabilities.
With the recent tests, “North Korea is seeking to increase its leverage in coming talks” with Washington, said Lee Byong-chul, a North Korea expert at Kyungnam University’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul.
By timing its latest test to Mr. Wang’s visit to Seoul, North Korea also appeared to “express discontent with Beijing” that it was not providing enough economic assistance during the global health crisis, Mr. Lee said.
North Korea’s economy, already battered by years of devastating international sanctions, has suffered greatly as trade with China has plummeted in the coronavirus pandemic.
Motoko Rich contributed reporting from Tokyo.
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SEOUL — North Korea said on Monday it had successfully launched newly developed long-range cruise missiles, its first missile test in six months and a new indication that an arms race between North and South Korea was heating up on the Korean Peninsula.
In the tests that took place on Saturday and Sunday, the North Korean missiles hit targets 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) away after flying more than two hours, said the North’s official Korean Central News Agency. The missiles changed their trajectories and made circles before hitting their targets, it said.
A series of resolutions from the United Nations Security Council banned North Korea from developing or testing ballistic missiles, but not cruise missiles. A cruise missile test by the North usually does not raise as much alarm as its ballistic missile tests. The country’s state-run media also indicated that the nation’s leader, Kim Jong-un, had not attended the weekend tests, though he has usually supervised all major weapons tests in recent years.
The latest tests showed that North Korea continued to improve its arsenal of missiles while nuclear disarmament talks with the United States remained stalled. North Korea said on Monday that the long-range cruise missile was “a strategic weapon of great significance” and part of an arms development goal announced by Mr. Kim during the party congress in January.
ramping up its own arms buildup.
Dosan Ahn Changho-class attack submarine. North Korea began testing its submarine-launched ballistic missiles in 2015, reporting the “greatest success” the following year.
As international negotiations have made little progress in stopping North Korea from growing its weapons arsenal, South Korea has embarked on building more powerful missiles and missile-defense systems of its own to counter North Korean threats.
launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile in 2017, Donald J. Trump, then president, lifted the payload limit on South Korean ballistic missiles. During the summit meeting in May between President Biden and his South Korean counterpart, Moon Jae-in, the allies agreed to terminate the missile guidelines, leaving South Korea free to develop longer-range missiles.
North Korea reacted angrily to the removal of the missile restrictions, calling it “a stark reminder of the U.S. hostile policy.”
The removal of the limits allows South Korea to build ballistic missiles with larger warheads that hold destructive power and that can target underground bunkers where North Korea keeps its nuclear arsenal and where its leadership would hide at war, military analysts said.
When Mr. Moon visited his Defense Ministry’s Agency for Defense Development last year, he said South Korea had “developed a short-range ballistic missile with one of the largest warheads in the world,” an apparent reference to the Hyunmoo-4, which missile experts say can cover all of North Korea with a two-ton payload.
When North Korea last conducted a missile test, on March 25, it said it had launched a new ballistic missile that carried a 2.5-ton warhead. This month, reports emerged in South Korean news media that the South was developing an even more powerful weapon: a short-range ballistic missile with a payload of up to three tons.
The tit-for-tat weapons buildup signaled that the rival militaries were arming themselves with increasingly powerful missiles that can fly farther and carry more destructive power, and that are harder to intercept.
said this month.
last October and in January, North Korea unveiled what appeared to be newly developed intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles. The United Nations’ nuclear watchdog said last month that the country appeared to have restarted a reactor in its main nuclear complex.
But North Korea has refrained from testing an I.C.B.M. or a nuclear device since 2017. Its most recent military parade, held Thursday to mark the government’s 73rd anniversary, did not feature new weapons.
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SEOUL — On a bright August morning in 1960, after two days of sailing from Japan, hundreds of passengers rushed on deck as someone shouted, “I see the fatherland!”
The ship pulled into Chongjin, a port city in North Korea, where a crowd of people waved paper flowers and sang welcome songs. But Lee Tae-kyung felt something dreadfully amiss in the “paradise” he had been promised.
“The people gathered were expressionless,” Mr. Lee recalled. “I was only a child of 8, but I knew we were in the wrong place.”
Mr. Lee’s and his family were among 93,000 people who migrated from Japan to North Korea from 1959 to 1984 under a repatriation program sponsored by both governments and their Red Cross societies. When they arrived, they saw destitute villages and people living in poverty, but were forced to stay. Some ended up in prison camps.
renewed interest in North Korean human rights violations, and when leaders in Japan and South Korea remain particularly sensitive about opening old wounds between the two countries.
“It was my mother who urged my father to take our family to the North,” Mr. Lee said. “And it was her endless source of regret until she died at age 74.”
The Lees were among two million Koreans who moved to Japan during Japanese colonial rule from 1910 to 1945. Some went there looking for work, others were taken for forced labor in Japan’s World War II effort. Lacking citizenship and financial opportunities, most returned to Korea after the Japanese surrender.
Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights.
Japan approved of the migration despite the fact that most Koreans in the country were from the South, which was mired in political unrest. While Japanese authorities said ethnic Koreans chose to relocate to North Korea, human rights groups have accused the country of aiding and abetting the deception by ignoring the circumstances the migrants would face in the communist country.
Japanese women married to Korean men and thousands of biracial children. Among them was a young woman named Ko Yong-hee, who would later become a dancer and give birth to Kim Jong-un, the leader of North Korea, and grandson of its founder.
When Mr. Lee’s family boarded the ship in 1960, his parents thought Korea would soon be reunited. Mr. Lee’s mother gave him and his four siblings cash and told them to enjoy their last days in Japan. Mr. Lee bought a mini pinball-game machine. His younger sister brought home a baby doll that closed its eyes when it lay on the bed.
“It was the last freedom we would taste,” he said.
He realized his family had been duped, he said, when he saw the people at Chongjin, who “all looked poor and ashen.” In the rural North Korean county where his family was ordered to resettle, they were shocked to see people go without shoes or umbrellas in the rain.
In 1960 alone, 49,000 people migrated from Japan to North Korea, but the number sharply declined as word spread of the true conditions in the country. Despite the watchful eye of censors, families devised ways to warn their relatives. One man wrote a message on the back of a postage stamp:
“We are not able to leave the village,” he wrote in the tiny space, urging his brother in Japan not to come.
Mr. Lee’s aunt sent her mother a letter telling her to consider immigrating to North Korea when her nephew was old enough to marry. The message was clear: The nephew was only 3.
To survive, the migrants often relied on cash and packages sent by relatives still in Japan. In school, Mr. Lee said, children called him “ban-jjokbari,” an insulting term for Koreans from Japan. Everyone lived under constant fear of being called disloyal and banished to prison camps.
refugees, spending two and a half years in prison in Myanmar when he and his smuggler were detained for human trafficking. After arriving in Seoul in 2009, Mr. Lee helped smuggle his wife and daughter out of North Korea. But he still has relatives, including a son, stuck in the country, he said.
His wife died in 2013, and now Mr. Lee lives alone in a small rented apartment in Seoul. “But I have freedom,” he said. “I would have sacrificed everything else for it.”
Mr. Lee has formed an association with 50 ethnic Koreans from Japan who migrated to North Korea and escaped to the South. Every December, the group meets to mark the anniversary of the beginning of the mass migration in 1959. His memoir is nearly complete. His generation is the last to have firsthand experience of what happened to those 93,000 migrants, he said.
“It’s sad that our stories will be buried when we die,” Mr. Lee said.