North Korea: Expert on nuclear and military capabilities
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This comes after North Korean state media reported that the country successfully tested a hypersonic missile on Wednesday. In his New-Years speech, Kim Jong-un said that Pyongyang would continue to strengthen its defence capabilities due to an increasingly unstable military environment on the Korean peninsula.
There are concerns that North Korea may showcase the latest missiles and weaponry today, in honour of their leader’s 38th birthday.
However, Gordon Chang, an expert on North Korea and China, believes that even if dangerous ballistic missiles are put on display, North Korean officials have bigger things to worry about.
Speaking to Express.co.uk, he said: “We could see displays of weaponry on his birthday—the 8th of this month—but expect him to stress his work to improve livelihoods.
“Kim Jong-un is apparently concerned that displays of weapons will not be popular, now that many North Koreans are facing starvation.
“In remarks that appeared to replace his traditional New Year’s Day address, Kim stressed economic development. Although he did mention the North’s weapons, his comments were low-key.
“Starvation is now uppermost in people’s minds. Kim closed his land borders with China and Russia in January 2020 to protect the North from coronavirus, and he enforced draconian disease-control measures with shoot-to-kill orders.”
The closed borders have aggravated severe food shortages that were already growing due to strict UN sanctions.
Mr Chang said: “North Koreans have been told to not expect relief until 2025, which some residents think is an effective death sentence. People have already starved to death.
“This winter, some city dwellers were so desperate they even abandoned residences to live in the countryside, where food is generally more available.
“Pyongyang’s officials are worried. Last April, authorities issued a warning that the situation could be worse than the “Arduous March,” the four-year famine of the mid-1990s.”
During the famine in the mid-1990s, more than 3.5 million people were rumoured to have perished, which was more than 10% of the population.
Mr Chang also believes that Kim Jong-un’s top-down policies will only aggravate the food situation, and recovery will not come for years.
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Commenting on the recent ballistic missile test, he said: “ A missile test can mean trouble is brewing—or it can mean that the North is conducting business as usual.
“The timing of a test is usually determined by one or more politically significant events, but we usually do not know for sure what they are.
“This time, the test could be timed to celebrate Kim Jong Un’s birthday on the 8th of this month or maybe to affect the crucial South Korean presidential election on March 9.
“Whatever the reason, we know Kim’s weapons program is continuing to make progress.”
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