Pyongyang seeks to strengthen ties with Beijing with missile launch: report

July 19, 2016

SEOUL, July 19 (Yonhap) — North Korea’s recent firing of an intermediate-range ballistic missile at a high angle appears to be intended to push South Korea to accept the deployment of an advanced U.S. anti-missile system here and cause a rift in Seoul’s relations with Beijing, a North Korean expert said Tuesday.

Hong Woo-taek, a research fellow at the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification (KINU), said, “Pyongyang might have sought to exploit the tension between South Korea and China over the Terminal High-Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system issue to strengthen its hitherto weakened ties with Beijing.”

“But China is not foolish enough to alienate itself from South Korea to take sides with North Korea. Pyongyang won’t be able to achieve what it intended by firing the Musudan missile at a high angle last month,” Hong said in his recent report, titled “North Korea’s Intentions and THAAD.”

On June 22, the North fired two Musudan missiles, with one flying some 400 kilometers and reaching an altitude exceeding 1,000 km. Although the Musudan did not fly very far, some experts said the great height it achieved may mean the missile is capable of ranges up to about 3,000 km and could theoretically strike key military bases in the U.S. territory of Guam. The high angle at which the missile flew after takeoff also means it could be used to attack South Korea.

“It was the first time that the North showed its capability to launch the Musudan at a steep angle. This kind of move would naturally compel Seoul to deploy the U.S. anti-missile system to respond to such a threat,” he said.

The THAAD system can intercept incoming missiles much higher up which gives Seoul an added layer of protection compared to its current Patriot batteries that can only hit rockets closer to the ground.

In this video image released by North Korea on July 1, 2016, a Musudan missile heads towards a U.S. military base in Guam.

In this video image released by North Korea on July 1, 2016, a Musudan missile heads towards a U.S. military base in Guam.

As for China’s possible economic sanctions, including sharp increases in tariffs on imported Korean-made products as a result of the THAAD deployment, the researcher said China is not likely to go beyond diplomatic condemnations of THAAD.

On Tuesday, North Korea test-fired three ballistic missiles in an apparent protest against the decision by Seoul and Washington to set up the THAAD battery in Seongju, 296 km south of Seoul.

Besides the latest launch, the North test-fired an SLBM on July 9 that followed on the footsteps of six intermediate-range Musudan missile tests carried out from April to June.