North Korea’s government media outlets remained mum on Thursday as of press time regarding reports from Seoul that the communist regime launched an intercontinental ballistic missile. The North Korean launch followed a report that South Korea’s President-Elect Yoon Suk-yeol would pressure Pyongyang on human rights.
Yoon won a highly-contested, often bitter election this month against Lee Jae-myung of the ruling leftist Democratic Party. The president-elect will take office on May 10.
Current President Moon Jae-in dramatically altered South Korea’s policy towards the North during his tenure, visiting North Korea and meeting communist dictator Kim Jong-un on several occasions, while urging diplomacy towards Pyongyang and contemplating sanctions relief. North Korea responded by bombing the “joint liaison” office Moon established to facilitate contact.
Yoon campaigned on a return to a less friendly policy towards North Korea, arguably the world’s most repressive regime and one with which South Korea has remained technically at war for over 70 years. On Wednesday, Korea’s JoongAng Ilbo newspaper, citing “an official on the presidential transition team,” reported that Yoon plans not to “remain silent” on North Korean human rights abuses the way Moon did and would offer “no carrots” to the Kim regime without concessions on North Korea’s end.
“The current administration has tried to induce the North to denuclearize through many different policies, but all have failed,” the alleged Yoon official was quoted as saying. “Without progress on denuclearization, there will [be] no carrots provided [to the North].”
Elsewhere in the article, the same source said that Yoon “will not remain silent on North Korean residents’ suffering and human rights abuses for the sake of dialogue with the North,” a shift away from Moon’s policy of actively silencing South Korean human rights activists and North Korean defectors in the country to appease Pyongyang. Among the policies that most outraged the human rights community were the banning of a journalist from covering North-South talks in 2018 over his status as a North Korean defector and criminalizing sending human rights leaflets over the border with balloons, a common practice among South Korean activists.
The source’s comments aligned, JoongAng Ilbo noted, with Yoon’s campaign promises, particular his vow to bring Seoul closer to Washington and return to advocating for the human rights of North Koreans in a manner similar to traditional U.S. foreign policy.
Hours after the South Korean newspaper published the report on North Korea policy, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) confirmed that North Korea’s military had fired what appeared to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) across the Sea of Japan. The JCS did not identify the model of ICBM and appeared to indicate that it was not one formerly known to be in North Korea’s arsenal.
“It has been confirmed that in case of North Korea’s missile launch, (we) have the ability and posture to precisely strike the origin of the missile launch and command and support facilities at any time,” the JCS asserted in a statement, noting that it responded to the launch with its own live-fire exercise meant to show Pyongyang it has the military ability to counter a missile strike.
“Dubbed a ‘monster’ missile for its size, the new ICBM is thought to carry multiple warheads and have a range exceeding 13,000 km,” according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency. Yonhap noted that the missile was the twelfth projectile firing of its kind this year, and by far the largest.
Japan similarly conjectured that the projectile fired on Thursday appeared to be a “new model of an ICBM.”
The White House condemned the launch in a statement calling it “a brazen violation of multiple U.N. Security Council resolutions.”
“The President and his national security team are assessing the situation in close coordination with our allies and partners,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said in the White House statement.
While the projectile launch made international news, North Korean state media – the only legal news sources in the country – did not mention the launch at all as of press time. The top story in Rodong Sinmun, the national state newspaper, on Thursday was a report on Kim Jong-un visiting a zoo in 2012.
“Making rounds of the zoo, he pointed out the parts where they failed to combine maximum practicality and profitability in the minimum area of plot,” Rodong Sinmun reported. “Then he told them about the global trend of zoo construction and taught the ways and methods to remodel the zoo.”
The newspaper also published its usual communist propaganda calling for loyalty to Kim Jong-un.
“In all the sacred annals of our revolution, there were loyalists who single-mindedly upheld the Party and the leader,” the newspaper declared. “Their worthwhile life was based on the absolute loyalty to the leader. It was their unwavering faith that the leader’s idea and the Party’s policies are a science and truth and that they should fight to the death for implementing the leader’s orders.”