What do North Korea’s missile tests mean?

While many countries suffer from the corona virus pandemic, North Korea conducted missile tests for the fourth time in the same month on March 29. These are presumably short-range ballistic missiles. Aside from the outcome and characteristics of the missile tests, the question could be asked why North Korea has conducted such missile tests right now. North Korea also conducted another missile test (short-range cruise missiles) on April 14.

Officially, North Korea has so far reported no cases of infection of the coronavirus that spread from Wuhan. Nevertheless, on March 22, 2020, US President Trump sent a letter to the North Korean leader Kim Jong-un offering cooperation against the spread of the coronavirus.[1] Kim Jong-un’s sister responded.

On April 12, 2020, North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly convened with a two-days delay. Kim Jong-un did not attend the meeting. On April 15th was the 108th anniversary of North Korea’s leader Kim Il-sung, who is considered the eternal president of North Korea. Kim Jong-un did not appear in front of the public either.

Whether there are no corona virus infected persons in North Korea is very questionable. North Korea always suffers from food shortages at the beginning of spring. Because of the virus’ spreading, North Korea had already closed its borders to China by the end of January. As a result, North Koreans do not formally receive food from China. But there could always be smugglers. Some soldiers who were on duty as border guards also contacted the Chinese. Thus, the virus mainly spread within the military and also in border towns.[2]

The North Korean leader may need to show his power to strengthen his leadership. Dissatisfaction within the military is probably high. The short-range missile tests could also be a signal towards South Korea to exert pressure to get help. South Korea held parliamentary elections on April 15, and North Korea may have intervened in the election process to support the ruling party because its policies are more pro-North Korea.[3]

[1] Time Online: Trump reportedly proposes Kim improved relations, March 21, 2020, https://www.zeit.de/politik/ausland/2020-03/nordkorea-usa-donald-trump-kim-jong-un-brief

[2] Jiji Press: Kitachosen Show me tasu № Shisyaka Shingata Korona Kansenkakudai (In North Korea, too, there are numerous deaths, new coronavirus, the spread of the virus, 01.04.2020. https://www.jiji.com/jc/article?k=2020033100864&g=int

[3] MSN News: Kitachosen, Missile Renpatsu Wa Shinkita Moon Jae-in heno Engoshageki (North Korea, repeated missile launches in support of pro-North Korea politician Moon Jae-in, 03.04.2020. https://www.msn.com/ja-jp/news/world/

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