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Inside Story

A North Korean message to the world?

We ask how the world should react to Kim Jong-un's long-range rocket launch after barely a year in the top job.
Last Modified: 13 Dec 2012 10:38

North Korea has successfully launched a long-range rocket which it says was designed to put a weather satellite into orbit.

"The launch surely has a primary purpose, given the timing, of influencing South Korean presidential elections. There are a majority of South Koreans who do not want any kind of conflict with the North .... The North Korean goal quite clearly is to persuade South Korean voters they're better off with a president who is willing to engage with the North, than one who is not."

- Paul Chamberlin, a former US military attache to Seoul

The move sparked an international outcry, with the US, South Korea and Japan saying it was a test of technology that could, one day, be used to deliver a nuclear warhead.

North Korea followed what it said was a similar successful launch in 2009 with a nuclear test that prompted the UN Security Council to stiffen sanctions that it originally imposed in 2006 after the country's first nuclear test.

North Korea is banned from developing nuclear and missile-related technology under UN resolutions.

The man at North Korea's helm, Kim Jong-un, has been in office barely a year but he has been making his mark.

Kim was pushed into the top job – a position he had started to be groomed for – after the death of his father, Kim Jong-il.

There had been hopes that the Western-educated Kim might prove to be a progressive reformer, and take North Korea in a new direction.

"[North Korea] has succeeded in launching long-range missiles before …. So this is really a triumph for North Korean technology and propaganda, and it comes at an extremely timely moment … it's an honour bestowed upon the memory of the late Dear Leader Kim Jong-il … and it's also a way of buttressing the power of Kim Jong-un."

- Don Kirk, a Christian Science Monitor correspondent

But he has made little progress in addressing the country's severe economic problems.

It is believed that he has given the secretive State Security Department a more central role in monitoring citizens. And he has alarmed many with talk of "squashing rebellious elements at home".

Kim has also moved to consolidate his grip on power, replacing senior leaders in the powerful military with his own loyalists.

So, what message is Kim trying to send almost a year after his father's death? And how should the world respond?

Joining Inside Story for the discussion with presenter Laura Kyle are guests: Don Kirk, a correspondent for the Christian Science Monitor; Joseph Cheng, a political science professor at City University of Hong Kong; and Paul Chamberlin, a former US military attache to South Korea and the author of Korea 2010: Challenges of the New Millennium.

"I would not say that this is a provocation but I do agree that this is part of a plan of developing a nuclear weapons delivery system eventually to reach the US continent so as to enhance Pyongyang's bargaining power to secure some kind of security guarantee from the US and even diplomatic recognition."

Joseph Cheng, a political science professor

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