South Korean Defense Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo told his parliament on Monday there is no sign of an imminent missile launch from North Korea, despite some provocative activity spotted by satellite at the rocket launch facility in Tongchang-ri.
“It’s hasty to call it missile-related activity. Tongchang-ri is a launch site but we don’t see any activity being carried out for a missile launch,” Jeong said.
Jeong refused to comment on whether the launch facility has been restored to full operational capability. Analysts said earlier this month that significant construction activity has been detected by satellites at the facility, also known as Sohae. The activity seemed to have largely subsided as of last week.
South Korean Unification Minister Cho Myoung-gyon alluded on Monday to speculation that North Korea is ostentatiously refurbishing the Sohae facility, with activity like roof repairs that would be clearly visible to satellites, in order to build up leverage for nuclear negotiations. Cho said further analysis is needed to determine the North’s “exact intentions.”
North Korean Vice Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui on Friday issued Pyongyang’s clearest threat to break off negotiations and resume nuclear missile research.
U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton warned the North Koreans not to resume missile launches on Sunday.
“The North Koreans were unfortunately not willing to do what they needed to do,” Bolton said of the collapse of the Hanoi summit in a radio interview with host John Catsimatidis.
“Just last night, they issued an unhelpful statement that they’re thinking of going back to nuclear and ballistic missile testing, which would not be a good idea on their part,” he said.
Bolton suggested China could have a constructive role to play in getting North Korea back to the negotiating table, provided they get more serious about enforcing sanctions against the regime in Pyongyang.
“The Chinese have said repeatedly they don’t want to see North Korea with nuclear weapons at all because they think it destabilizes North East Asia. In theory, China has the same position we do,” he noted.
“What they could do more of is apply more pressure on North Korea. They could apply the U.N. sanctions more tightly. They control 90 percent of North Korea’s external trade, so China could have a very important role here,” he said.
Some U.S. lawmakers want to motivate China by imposing sanctions against Chinese banks that help North Korea evade sanctions. Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL) of the House Foreign affairs Committee told the Washington Examiner on Monday that despite their expressions of concern about North Korea’s rogue activities, China and Russia “ don’t want a solution on that peninsula because it keeps us distracted.”
“China and Russia have been complicit in not enforcing the sanctions, and so we are going after more sanctions on them to hopefully put more pressure on North Korea,” Yoho said.