Posted : 2017-07-30 17:14
Updated : 2017-07-31 15:09

Moon shifting to tough stance on North Korea

A North Korean Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile is launched in this photo released by the North's state-run Korean Central News Agency, Saturday. The missile was launched from Chagang Province, northern North Korea, at 11:41 p.m., Friday. / Yonhap

President seeks deployment of 4 THAAD launchers

By Jun Ji-hye

President Moon Jae-in is apparently shifting his policy on North Korea from appeasement toward a hawkish approach following Pyongyang's continued launching of ballistic missiles with intercontinental range.

The large-scale provocations are seen as the Kim Jong-un regime's answer to the Moon government's recent offer to hold military talks to ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula as well as to the international community's moves to impose harsher sanctions.

Friday night's missile test marked the second time for the North to launch the Hwasong-14, which it claimed was an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of striking targets on the U.S. mainland, following the first one fired July 4.

The North fired the missile into the East Sea from the vicinity of Mupyong-ri, Chagang Province, at around 11:41 p.m. Friday, according to the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).

The Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) fires an Eighth U.S. Army surface-to-surface ballistic missile during a Seoul-Washington combined live-fire exercise near the East Sea, Saturday. The drill took place six hours after North Korea fired an improved ballistic missile with intercontinental range. / Courtesy of South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff
The North's state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said the Hwasong-14 reached a maximum altitude of 3,724.9 kilometers and flew about 998 kilometers for 47 minutes.

So far, the Moon government has pursued a two-track policy in dealing with the North, seeking dialogue and imposing sanctions at the same time, despite repeated provocations.

But an official from the presidential office, asking not to be named, said, "If the missile were confirmed as an ICBM, it would mean the North is close to crossing the red line."

He added President Moon is keeping all options available as the latest provocation could bring about a "fundamental change" to the security landscape of Northeast Asia.

Most notably, Moon ordered his aides to immediately begin consultation with the United States to "temporarily" deploy four additional launchers of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system. The order was issued during an emergency National Security Council (NSC) session, presided over by the President, Saturday.

The order was considered a surprise as Moon had criticized the former Park Geun-hye government's rush to deploy two launchers which are currently in operation. The other four have been stored at a nearby U.S. military base. The Moon government initially planned to make a final decision over the complete deployment after conducting an environmental impact assessment of the site.

Moon's order to push for the deployment reflects his willingness to enhance the allies' missile defense against the North's growing threats, though he has to tolerate adverse criticism from opposition parties for flip-flopping.

During the NSC session, Moon also ordered his aides to begin consultation with Washington to amend a 2012 revision of missile guidelines to double the maximum weight of a warhead to be mounted on Seoul's 800-kilometer range ballistic missiles to 1 ton from the current 500 kilograms.

Such an order comes as the payload increase will bolster the nation's capability of striking Pyongyang's underground bunker facilities in which the North Korean leadership would take shelter in the event of war.

A U.S. Air Force B-1B bomber, left, flies with South Korean F-15K fighters over Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province, Sunday. The U.S. flew two supersonic bombers over the Korean Peninsula in a show of force against North Korea following its latest intercontinental ballistic missile test. / AP-Yonhap
Moon's other orders included staging stronger military protests, including Seoul and Washington's combined launch of their ballistic missiles.

The combined live-fire exercise took place near the East Sea on Saturday morning between the Republic of Korea Army and the Eighth U.S. Army (EUSA), during which the former fired two Hyunmoo-2A ballistic missiles and the latter launched two missiles from the Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS).

The U.S. also sent two B-1B bombers under the command of U.S. Pacific Air Forces to the Korean Peninsula in a show of force against the repressive state, Sunday.

"Throughout the approximately 10-hour mission, the aircrews practiced intercept and formation training, enabling them to improve their combined capabilities and tactical skills," the U.S. Pacific Air Forces said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Ministry of Unification are also working to draw up the nation's own sanctions against the North upon the President's order.

Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha also urged the ministry officials to closely cooperate with allies in order for an emergency U.N. Security Council (UNSC) session to be held at the earliest possible date and to draw up tougher sanctions.

Kang earlier said Seoul is discussing with Washington the possibility of using a so-called "secondary boycott" to maximize economic pressure on the North.

The secondary boycott calls for penalties for third-party companies and individuals who deal with the North, mainly targeting China, Pyongyang's sole ally.

But Park Won-gon, a professor of international relations at Handong Global University, said it would not be easy for South Korea to readily join the U.S. move of adopting the secondary boycott measure as it could worsen relations between Seoul and Beijing.

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