North Korea has the world at the edge of its seat | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 11.04.2012
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North Korea has the world at the edge of its seat

As North Korea prepares for the take-off of its 'weather satellite,' suspense is mounting in East Asia. In what Pyongyang insists is a legitimate launch, the rest of the world sees the test of an ICBM.

Unha-3 towers 30 meters into the blue North Korean sky. On Wednesday, Pyongyang said it was injecting the 90-ton rocket with fuel, getting it ready for take-off. It was on display for around 50 foreign journalists on Easter Sunday (April 8) at North Korea's new rocket facility, Tongchang-ri, located around 60 kilometers south of the Chinese border.

The excursion to the North Korean superstar was part of Pyongyang's new propaganda offensive with which it is trying to convey its alleged "peaceful" ambitions before its planned launch.

Despite Pyongyang's efforts, the world remains skeptical as many believe that the reclusive country, under the cover of launching an observation satellite, is really seeking to test an ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile).

The World Security Council responded to a North Korean nuclear test in 2009 by banning such tests in June the same year with the passing of Resolution 1874.

The problem with the upcoming rocket launch is that civil and military rocket technology cannot be separated from eachother, as North Korea expert Rüdiger Frank told DW.

"As we learned from other countries, such as the US and the USSR, all space programs - to put it carefully - have always had some kind of military purpose."

North Korea's new rocket facility

North Korea has a fancy new rocket facility

On alert

Washington has lambasted Pyongyang for its plans. Beijing has also stated its misgivings over the launch. Japan and South Korea have even ordered their missile defense systems ready and are prepared to shoot down the rocket should it threaten their territories.

The North has responded by saying an interception of its missile would be paramount to "an act of war," to which Pyongyang would respond with "resolute and merciless punishment."

The Unha-3 is planned to be launched between April 12 and 16. On April 15, the country will be commemorating the 100th birthday of the "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung - an event which Pyongyang has awaited with much anticipation.

"And, of course, they absolutely must stage something spectacular, something amazing for the event." And a rocket launch, according to Rüdiger Frank, Korea expert at the University of Vienna, would be the perfect attraction.


Norbert Eschborn, head of Konrad Adenauer Foundation's Korea office, told DW that unpredictability was a key element in North Korea's foreign policy towards the West.

North Korean labourers eat a lunch of boiled maize in Sukchon country

North Koreans continue to suffer from hunger

"North Korea has a number of problems, especially with regard to taking care of its people. So they can't have the international community forgetting about them. That's why they use unconventional - and at times not particularly appreciated - ways of getting attention," Eschborn said.

The country's unconventionality doesn't only manage to get it into headlines time and time again, but it also makes it the topic of discussion among high-ranking international politicians.

Nonetheless, around a fourth of the North Korean population suffers from hunger; of the country's nearly 24 million nationals, around six million do not have enough to eat, according to a United Nations estimate.

Food aid or launch?

But the rocket launch is putting US food aid - and an agreement just signed in February - in jeopardy. The agreement obliges North Korea to halt the enrichment of uranium and allow inspectors from the International Atomic Energy Agency in. On its part, the US promised to deliver 240,000 tons of food.

New North Korean leader Kim Jong Un waves at Kumsusan Memorial Palace in Pyongyang

Kim Jong Un cannot afford to lose face

Now, relations between Washington and Pyongyang are back on the rocks. During informal negotiations in Berlin at the beginning of April, a row broke out between high-ranking delegations from North Korea and the US. The North Koreans prematurely ended the talks after the Americans criticized the rocket launch.

Strong words for a strong leader?

Daniel Pinkston, Korea expert at the International Crisis Group, has been following North Korea's ambitions, including its promotion technologies export. Pinkston told DW one of the country's main goals was to present itself as a strong country.

And the new dictator Kim Jong Un wants to present himself as a powerful leader. Not long ago, he issued strong words, threatening a further nuclear test should sanctions be imposed in response to the launch. And after all the sabre-rattling and the commotion over North Korea's rocket launch, the country's new leader will now hardly be able to call it off without losing face.

Author: Matthias von Hein / sb
Editor: Shamil Shams

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