Missile tests 'to bolster N. Korea's standing'

An April 24 photo from North Korea's official news agency shows the underwater test-firing of a strategic submarine-launched ballistic missile. This week, Pyongyang released a video of the test - shortly before the North Korean envoy was to meet Chin
An April 24 photo from North Korea's official news agency shows the underwater test-firing of a strategic submarine-launched ballistic missile. This week, Pyongyang released a video of the test - shortly before the North Korean envoy was to meet China's President Xi Jinping.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Analysts note string of launches took place just before Pyongyang's dialogue with Beijing

SEOUL • A recent string of unsuccessful missile tests by North Korea, and the release of a video showing the launch of a different weapon, reflected a frantic drive by its leader, Mr Kim Jong Un, to bolster his political standing before a dialogue with China, analysts said.

Pyongyang held the latest of those tests on Tuesday, only hours before its envoy - Mr Ri Su Yong, a confidant of Mr Kim and a Politburo member - arrived in Beijing. The intermediate-range Musudan ballistic missile exploded as soon as it was fired, South Korea said.

The Musudan, which analysts say was devised to strike US military bases in Guam with nuclear and chemical weapons, had not had a test flight until April, when North Korea launched three. All the tests failed.

Despite having little time to fix the problems, engineers conducted another test on Tuesday, also unsuccessful, an unusual streak of flops even by the checkered standards of North Korea. Mr Kim's apparent eagerness to demonstrate advances in his country's missile capacity may have added to the pressure for his engineers, whose rockets have seldom worked on the first try, some analysts said.

"Repeating a failed test again and again with no more than a month for analysis and troubleshooting will almost guarantee repeated failure," Mr John Schilling, an expert on North Korean missiles, wrote in an analysis posted on Wednesday on 38 North, a website in Washington that covers North Korea.

"Whether this unrealistic tempo is driven by impatience or desperation, it may mark the end of the Musudan programme - whose military utility is in any case increasingly questionable as North Korea's other programmes advance."

South Korean defence officials said the Musudan was based on the design of an old Soviet submarine- launched ballistic missile. Some of the Soviet missile designers made their way to North Korea in the immediate post-Cold War era, Mr Schilling wrote in his post.

"Working from old Soviet designs, even using old Soviet hardware, is no guarantee of success," he said. "Such hardware will by now be at least 40 years old."

On Wednesday, North Korea released a video of a recent test flight for a different projectile - its first submarine-launched ballistic missile - shortly before Mr Ri met President Xi Jinping of China in Beijing. The footage was included in a documentary shown on the state-run Central Television.

The documentary included video clips of the submarine-launched ballistic missile, known as Polar Star, soaring out of the water and flying into the sky, as the narrator extolled the military advances that the North has made under Mr Kim.

Outside analysts said the timing of the broadcast was as interesting as the footage itself.

After the failed tests, they said, North Korea needed another way to draw attention to its missile threats. The video preceded both the meeting between North Korea and China this week and a planned security dialogue between the United States and China in Beijing next week, where dealing with the North's weapons programme is expected to be a main topic.

"By releasing the video footage, North Korea is trying to compensate for the Musudan failure," said Professor Kim Yong Hyun, a North Korean studies expert at Dongguk University in Seoul.

"North Korea wanted to demonstrate to China that its weapons programmes have reached a considerable level and that China must acknowledge the fact when it sits down with the Americans to discuss North Korea."

NEW YORK TIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 04, 2016, with the headline 'Missile tests 'to bolster N. Korea's standing''. Print Edition | Subscribe