North Korea’s Kim Jong Un returns to field to guide final hypersonic missile test

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North Korean state media said on Tuesday that Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un witnessed the country’s latest advanced hypersonic missile test, marking the leader’s first appearance at such a launch mentioned by official reports in over a year and half.

The launch, confirmed by the Japanese and South Korean armed forces on Monday, was the second test in less than a week after another hypersonic platform test purported to incorporate the manoeuvrable re-entry vehicle technology took place on Wednesday. North Korea last tested such a hypersonic weapon in September and has since boasted of “successive successes” in joining a global arms race in which countries like China, Russia and the United States were also in competition.

The latest protest was “carried out with the aim of finally confirming the overall technical characteristics of the developed hypersonic weapon system,” according to an article published Tuesday, Wednesday local time in the official newspaper of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea. . Rodong Sinmun.

The maneuverable missile is said to have flown in a “corkscrew” technique for 240 kilometers (or about 150 miles) and hit a target at sea some 1,000 kilometers (about 621 miles). The allegation greatly exceeds the 700 kilometers (nearly 435 miles) initially estimated by the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff, who also said the projectile flew at some Mach 10, or ten times the speed of sound. .

“The superior handling of the hypersonic glide vehicle was most vividly verified during the final test firing,” according to the North Korean report.

The development of such a weapon has been a priority since the Eighth Congress of the ruling Workers’ Party in January last year. But in what seemed like a first, Kim himself hadn’t been mentioned in any official missile test reports throughout 2021, including testing a new cruise missile, a ballistic missile based on a train, a submarine-launched ballistic missile and the first test of hypersonic weapons.

Senior military officials such as Pak Jong Chon, who is secretary of the Korean Workers’ Party Central Committee and a member of the ruling party’s politburo presidium, are said to have overseen the latest launches at a time when Kim had reduced public appearances in General, potentially due to COVID-19 issues or health concerns related to significant weight loss that has raised concerns even among its own citizens, according to state media.

The latest launch report mentioned Jo Yong Won, another Politburo member of the Korean Workers’ Party Central Committee and secretary for organizational affairs of the committee.

Also in attendance, according to photos accompanying the event, was deputy director of the Korean Workers’ Party Central Committee department Kim Yo Jong, who is also Kim Jong Un’s sister and could be seen applauding alongside officials. given the apparent success of the test, as the North Korean leader pointed out. screens fixed in a viewing area.

Kim Jong Un’s presence can only reinforce the importance he placed on such achievements, which he stressed at the launch.

“Stressing the need to further accelerate the efforts aimed at gradually strengthening the strategic military power of the country in quality and quantity and at further modernizing the army”, Rodong Sinmun reported, “Kim Jong Un has encouraged the national defense scientific research sector to continuously achieve admirable success in the historic sacred cause to remarkably increase the country’s war deterrence, true to the Party’s strategic policy in national defense development and strategic directives. “

“That day, he called key members of the hypersonic weapons research and development sector to the Party Central Committee office building and warmly congratulated them,” the report continued. “He had a photo shoot with them, expressing high expectations and belief that they would help strengthen the country’s war deterrence through their achievements of state-of-the-art scientific research for national defense and would reliably guarantee sovereignty and security. of State.”

North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un can be seen on an observation deck alongside officials as he allegedly watches the country’s latest hypersonic missile launch in this photo shared on January 11.
Rodong Sinmun

The launch drew criticism from Japan, South Korea as well as their mutual ally, the United States. The US State Department and the Indo-Pacific Command both opposed the launch, as did the White House at a press conference on Tuesday.

“As the State Department and INDOPACOM made clear overnight, we condemn the ballistic missile launch from the DPRK,” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki said. “While we assessed that this event did not pose an immediate threat to US personnel or territory or our allies, the launch highlights the destabilizing impact of the DPRK’s illicit weapons program. The launch is underway. violation of several UN Security Council resolutions. This poses a threat to the DPRK’s neighbors and the international community. “

She called on North Korea “to refrain from further provocations and engage in sustained and substantial dialogue” and said President Joe Biden’s administration “was closely consulting our allies and partners on this matter.”

Kim has categorically rejected attempts to restrict his country’s nuclear and missile development through international sanctions, even as the United States has been joined by Albania, France, Ireland and the United Kingdom. to request closed-door consultations at the United Nations Security Council.

North Korea’s ally China has taken an even more measured approach.

“We have taken note of the launches. Further research and assessment is needed to identify the nature of the projectile,” Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said on Tuesday. “All parties must avoid jumping to conclusions or exaggerating. We hope that the parties concerned will act with caution, jointly preserve peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, resolve their respective concerns through dialogue and consultation, and advance the process of political settlement of the issue of the Korean Peninsula along of the two-way approach and the phased and synchronized principle. “

He also noted that “the situation on the Korean Peninsula is at an important and sensitive stage,” arguing that China and other members of the UN Security Council have an important role to play in trying to restart dialogue often. blocked between rival Korea and the United States

“China still believes that the Security Council must play a positive and constructive role and that any action must be such as to facilitate the resumption of dialogue between the parties concerned and to maintain peace and stability in the peninsula,” said Wang. At the same time, China calls on all parties to keep the bigger picture in mind, work in the same direction, focus on advancing the political settlement process, and do more things that can help stabilize the situation, build mutual trust and rekindle dialogue. “

Dialogue has been virtually interrupted on the Korean Peninsula since the failure of a historic and burgeoning peace process involving Pyongyang, Seoul and Washington in 2019.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who is expected to step down after the March elections, continued to push for a resumption of inter-Korean talks as well as a declaration formally ending the Korean War that erupted in the United States. 1950s, while President Joe Biden, who took office in January, also said he was open to dialogue. Kim, who marked a decade in power last month, called on the two men to first recall their “hostile policy” of economic sanctions and military exercises.

The North Korean leader has seemed more focused in recent years on domestic economic issues and strengthening national defense, two main topics of his most recent speech at the Fourth Plenary Meeting of the Eighth Central Committee of the Korean Workers’ Party in the end of last month.

Kim reportedly remarked on how “the military environment on the Korean Peninsula and the tendency of the international situation to become unstable day by day requires that the strengthening of the state’s defense capacity be further propelled powerfully without a moment’s notice. delay “, according to the official Korean central. Press Agency.

He reiterated the need for the defense sector to move forward with the objectives of the 80th Party Congress, including the development of new modern weapons, and also pushed for the strengthening of militia units. already several million from North Korea.

But he also linked North Korea’s military strategy to external events, including Pyongyang’s relationship with Seoul and other international factors.

“The conclusion sets out questions of principle and a series of tactical directions,” the official report said, “all of which should be maintained by the North-South relations and external affairs sectors to cope with the rapidly changing nature of the world. the international political situation and the surrounding circumstances. “

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