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North Korea may not fire long-range missile until year-end: think tank

North Korea is unlikely to launch intercontinental ballistic missiles at least until the end of the year in order not to embarrass China, experts said Wednesday, amid concerns the regime could express frustration at the stalled denuclearization talks with the US through a major military provocation.

“Chances are high that North Korea won’t test-fire missiles before and after a China-Japan-South Korea trilateral summit or even until the year-end, taking into account Beijing’s position,” Hong Min, director of the North Korea research office at the Korea Institute for National Unification, told reporters during a press conference held in Seoul.



North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visits the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang on Tuesday. (Korean Central News Agency)
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un visits the Kumsusan Palace of the Sun in Pyongyang on Tuesday. (Korean Central News Agency)


China will host a trilateral meeting with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and Chinese Premier Li Kequiang next Tuesday. On Monday, Moon will hold a bilateral summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

“China will be embarrassed if the North launches missiles as there is a possibility that the three leaders may announce their principles for peaceful resolution of the Korean Peninsula issue,” Hong said.

His prediction is in stark contrast to other experts’ opinion that the regime will break its self-imposed moratorium to carry out an ICBM test if the US fails to put forward a new proposal that the regime finds satisfactory enough to return to the negotiating table.

On Dec. 3, North Korea’s Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs Ri Thae-song said that the US will get to choose what “Christmas gift” it will receive if its year-end deadline is missed.

“If North Korea starts (its military action) from an intermediate-range ballistic missile or other missiles, the regime will have limited options and the US will have to take a hardline stance toward the North,” Hong said.

China and Russia will seek to exert more influence on the denuclearization talks on the Korean Peninsula as the US struggles to make a breakthrough, Hyun Seung-soo, an analyst at the think tank said.

He said the two countries signaled their cooperative efforts vis-a-vis the North by proposing the UN Security Council lift a ban on North Korean exports of seafood and textiles this week. They also proposed exempting inter-Korean rail and road cooperation projects from UN sanctions.

“Russian President (Vladimir) Putin has been showing strong willingness to resolve the issue through multilateral talks if negotiations with the US don’t work out smoothly. The proposal appears to be part of such a plan for a joint response as key players in the region,” Hyun said.

By Park Han-na (hnpark@heraldcorp.com)
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