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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Nov. 21)

Editorials from Korean dailies 07:11 November 21, 2022

Mounting nuclear threats
North's ICBM launch destabilizes security situation further

North Korea's launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) last week has raised tensions further on the Korean Peninsula and in East Asia. The North test-fired a Hwasong-17 ICBM at Pyongyang International Airport on Friday, according to its state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

The missile, known as a "monster ICBM" due to its size, flew about 1,000 kilometers at a maximum altitude of 6,040 kilometers with a top speed reaching Mach 22. It landed in Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone 4,135 seconds following launch at a lofted angle. This means the ICBM could hit any target on the U.S. mainland.

The North was estimated to have made considerable progress in advancing ICBM technologies. Friday's launch was seen as a success compared to the failure of the North's Nov. 3 firing of the same type of missile. It came one day after North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son-hui threatened "fiercer" military responses to an agreement by the U.S., South Korea, and Japan to strengthen extended deterrence.

There is no doubt that the North's ICBM launch poses a grave threat to peace and stability in the region. "The test-fire clearly proved the reliability of the new major strategic weapon system to be representative of the DPRK's strategic forces and its powerful combat performance as the strongest strategic weapon in the world," the KCNA said. The report also mentioned the existence of the North's military units in charge of operations of ICBMs for the first time.

In a nutshell, Pyongyang has apparently taken a step toward developing and deploying Hwasong ICBMs. The North, of course, has yet to prove its technologies to ensure that warheads endure the harsh conditions of their reentry into the atmosphere. So Pyongyang is likely to conduct more ICBM launches to speed up acquiring such technologies. What's worrisome is that such ICBMs, which are designed to carry multiple nuclear warheads, could hit several targets, including Washington, D.C., and New York, at the same time. In this sense, Hwasong ICBMs could be called a game changer in any potential military conflicts.

The problem facing South Korea and its allies is how to respond to the North's soon-to-be-completed nuclear weapons program. Pyongyang is expected to conduct its seventh nuclear test soon to miniaturize nuclear warheads as part of its efforts to deploy tactical nuclear weapons. Such a move is in defiance of trilateral security cooperation between Seoul, Washington and Tokyo.

China, still the North's sole ally, should exercise its influence to restrain the recalcitrant country from conducting another nuclear test at least, if it is not possible to force the Kim Jong-un regime to abandon its nuclear ambitions. However, it was disappointing to see that Chinese President Xi Jinping refused to accept U.S. President Joe Biden's request for Beijing's active role in keeping the North's nuclear program in check, during their summit in Indonesia last week. The North Korean leader must have been emboldened by Xi's refusal.

We urge China to do more to ensure peace and stability on the peninsula and the region, instead of acquiescing to nuclear proliferation in North Korea. China, together with North Korea and Russia, should not revive a new Cold War with the U.S., Japan and South Korea. Instead, it should cooperate with the U.S. and other U.N. member countries to toughen sanctions against the North for its military provocations and nuclear threats.

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