North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister Han Song-ryol told the BBC on Monday that his country “will be conducting more missile tests on a weekly, monthly, and yearly basis,” despite diplomatic, economic, and military pressure from the outside world to abandon its quest for nuclear ICBMs.
“If the U.S. is reckless enough to use military means it would mean from that very day, an all-out war,” Han added, reiterating his threat to launch a “nuclear pre-emptive strike” if North Korea believes America and its allies are preparing to attack.
Other North Korean officials repeated the North’s accusations that the current joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea are an “aggressive war drill” and the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson is heading for Korea in a “reckless move” that could provoke a war.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang responded directly to the BBC interview with Han, expressing China’s “serious concern with recent trends about North Korea’s nuclear and missile development.”
“China is unswerving in its commitment to realising the denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, maintaining the peace and stability of the Korean peninsula, and continue to solve matters through dialogue and negotiations,” Lu added.
Despite the belligerent rhetoric from Pyongyang, John Everard at CNN detects signs that President Trump’s North Korea policy “might just be working,” noting that a much-feared nuclear test during the weekend celebration of national founder Kim Il-sung’s birthday did not occur, and the lone effort to test a missile ended with an embarrassing fizzle.
“In my opinion, the most plausible explanation for this is that North Korea blinked,” Everard writes. “Although it is possible the extensive preparations around its nuclear test site were intended only to wind up the international community, it seems more likely that the North Koreans did indeed plan a nuclear test Saturday but desisted, probably because they assessed the risks of serious retaliation were too great.”
He suggests economic pressure from China, possibly including a freeze on oil imports that would strangle North Korea’s rickety economy, and the (not entirely accurate) reports of a U.S. carrier strike group looming on the horizon might have been factors in Pyongyang’s climbdown.
North Korea may proceed with missile launches intended to back up Vice Foreign Minister Han’s heated words, but Everard points out that it matters a great deal what kind of missiles they test. If they are not launching the steadily improving vehicles needed to perfect ICBM capability, then their launches will be empty gestures of defiance, not meaningful steps toward nuclear missile capability.
In the end, North Koreans celebrating the 105th birthday of founder Kim Il-sung had to settle for a musical production with a mocked-up video of missile launches. The video’s actual footage of a test launch from February faded into fanciful graphics of a vast swarm of North Korean nukes flying across the Pacific and incinerating American cities, concluding with a photo of the American flag superimposed over a cemetery.
“When the performance was over, all the performers and participants in the military parade broke into enthusiastic cheers of ‘hurrah!'” claimed North Korean media, as relayed by Reuters.