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Christmas over but allies await NK’s ‘Christmas gift’

Christmas Day has passed without North Korea’s “gift” materializing, but Seoul and Washington are keeping a close eye on Pyongyang amid rising speculation about the regime’s next move.

Seoul is said to have seen no unusual signs in North Korea, but the Ministry of National Defense and other concerned organizations remain on high alert. 

“The Ministry of Defense is maintaining readiness for various military situations in close cooperation with the US,” Defense Ministry spokesperson Choi Hyun-soo said Thursday.

While no projectiles were launched, the North’s state-run Rodong Sinmun on Wednesday again stressed the importance of satellite technologies. 

Satellite image of a North Korean facility used for constructing missile launching equipment revealed by Planet Labs, a US-based satellite image provider. Yonhap
Satellite image of a North Korean facility used for constructing missile launching equipment revealed by Planet Labs, a US-based satellite image provider. Yonhap

On Wednesday, the paper published an article headlined “International movement for space development,” which stressed that space development has been taken up by many countries including China, Egypt and India.

Saying that many countries are investing in space development, the article claimed “space development is closely linked to the concerned country’s economic development.”

The article highlighted peaceful uses of related technologies, but it has raised concerns that Pyongyang might be hinting at intentions to carry out further launches or rocket engine tests.

In the past, the North has launched long-range projectiles and claimed it was conducting tests for space launch vehicles.

The lack of the highly anticipated provocation from the North has raised speculation that President Moon Jae-in’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Monday may have had an effect. 

At the summit, held in Beijing, Moon and Xi stressed the importance of dialogue in resolving North Korean issues and agreed to cooperate to maintain the momentum for US-North Korea dialogue.

“(Moon and Xi) took the position that denuclearization must be solved through dialogue, political momentum, and I think that there is an element of a message being delivered to the North,” Sejong Institute researcher Chung Jae-hun said.

He added that support from China and Russia, and from South Korea to a certain extent, for the North’s position that denuclearization talks should involve reciprocal measures such as the easing of some sanctions would have positive effects on bringing Pyongyang back to the table.

China and Russia have openly called for some sanctions to be eased, and Seoul has stated on a number of occasions that such measures should be considered provided that the North remains committed to denuclearization.

Such views, heavily criticized by South Korea’s conservatives, were repeated by Moon in a contribution to Project Syndicate on Thursday.

“If the North continues to implement denuclearization sincerely, the international community, too, should correspondingly show its efforts,” Moon wrote.

“I am confident that if dialogue and corresponding actions continue, we will need each other more and peace will eventually come. I hope that we can talk more often about peace, advance our respective ideas, and take various actions while moving steadily toward it.”

In dealing with the US, the North has pushed for the lifting of some sanctions, while the US has maintained that sanctions will remain until denuclearization is verified. The two sides also differ on the scope of the North’s demands for sanctions relief. Pyongyang claims that it asked only for sanctions directly affecting its people’s lives to be lifted at the Hanoi summit, while the US says the North effectively demanded full sanctions relief.

“The key point (from Pyongyang’s position) is how much of the North’s demands the international society will meet. If, for instance, there are under-the-table talks of corresponding measures, there is little reason for the North to overreach,” Chung said, describing the North’s threats and rhetoric in recent months as Pyongyang overreaching to express its dissatisfaction.

By Choi He-suk (