North Korea is back in the missile launching business

It was only a week ago when I predicted that North Korean tyrant Kim Jong-un would be back to his old tricks now that Joe Biden was in office. Kim and his sister, Kim Yo Jong, have been studiously ignoring the Biden administration since Biden was sworn in, but they broke their silence ahead of diplomatic meetings between Washington and South Korean officials, along with planned joint military exercises. Kim’s sister was issuing ominous warnings, much the same as her brother always did before Donald trump attempted to establish diplomatic relations. That’s why I suggested that we would likely see a return to missile tests and nuclear detonations in the near future.

Well, that didn’t take long. It turns out that there was a missile launch over the weekend, but it took analysts a while to confirm it. (NBC News)

North Korea fired at least one missile over the weekend, two U.S. officials told NBC News Tuesday.

It marks the first report of such activity since Joe Biden was sworn in as president.

Officials declined to say what type of missile was fired or where it landed. It was unclear why South Korea’s government had yet to comment on the missile launch. Officials in Seoul typically issue statements after North Korean missile or nuclear tests, and the North Korean government has been known to brag about them, as well.

There were a couple of things about this launch that made it at least somewhat unusual. First of all, the reason it took so long to confirm the information is that there was no official announcement from Kim’s government nor any sort of crowing on the state-run news service. Usually, Kim releases some sort of saber-rattling warning about hellfire and fury raining down upon the western oppressors or whatever. But this time there seems to have been radio silence.

Also, the missile in question wasn’t one of Kim’s newer, fancy ICBMs with solid fuel capability and vastly increased range. One analyst told reporters that it was a short-range missile not covered under United Nations sanctions. They went on to describe this launch as being “normal military activities.” This could mean one of two things. The muted launch might be intended as a less-provocative warning shot to see if North Korea can get Joe Biden’s attention and bring him to the table, portending some more spectacular fireworks if he doesn’t. On the other hand, do you suppose it’s possible that North Korea’s economy has cratered so badly that Kim can’t even afford to use up any more ICBMs? I wouldn’t rule it out. Even Kim himself has admitted that they are completely broke.

When Joe Biden was asked (briefly) about the launch, he didn’t have much to say. “We have learned that nothing much has changed.” But that’s not really true, is it? Something has changed. For the final two years of Donald Trump’s administration, Kim’s rocket launching facilities fell silent. Sure, he was still working on his nuke program under the covers while trying to hide it from the world, but there were no missiles being launched and no nuclear test detonations. Now, in Biden’s first 100 days, the fireworks have started again.

Meanwhile, across the Pacific, Kim and Chinese President Xi Jinping released a joint statement reaffirming their “special relationship.”

The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said Tuesday that leader Kim Jong Un called for stronger “unity and cooperation” with China in the face of challenges posed by “hostile forces” while exchanging messages with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

According to KCNA and China’s Xinhua news agency, Xi in his own message to Kim described bilateral relations as a “valuable asset” to both countries and vowed to make unspecified contributions to the peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.

Everything old is new again. Our sanctions on North Korea are never going to be fully effective as long as the Chinese Communist Party and the Russians keep helping Kim violate them. So the battle lines are back to where they were a few years ago. Hopefully, the word “battle” remains figurative moving forward.