North Korea carries out ‘very important’ test at once-dismantled launch site

US President Donald Trump said in June 2018, after his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, that Pyongyang pledged to dismantle its Sohae missile installation, shown in TV above. (AP)
Updated 08 December 2019

North Korea carries out ‘very important’ test at once-dismantled launch site

  • Reported test comes as a year-end deadline North Korea has imposed nears
  • Pyongyang warns it could take a ‘new path’ amid stalled denuclearization talks with the US

SEOUL: North Korea has carried out a “very important” test at its Sohae satellite launch site, state media KCNA reported on Sunday, a rocket testing ground that US officials once said North Korea had promised to close.
The reported test comes as a year-end deadline North Korea has imposed nears, warning it could take a “new path” amid stalled denuclearization talks with the United States. The KCNA report called it a “successful test of great significance” but did not specify what was tested.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, which usually issues alerts if a missile is seen launching from North Korea, declined to comment.
Missile experts said it appeared likely the North Koreans had conducted a static test of a rocket engine, rather than a missile launch.
“If it is indeed a static engine test for a new solid or liquid fuel missile, it is yet another loud signal that the door for diplomacy is quickly slamming, if it isn’t already,” said Vipin Narang, a nuclear affairs expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the United States.
“This could be a very credible signal of what might await the world after the New Year.”
Tensions have risen ahead of a year-end deadline set by North Korea, which has called on the United States to change its policy of insisting on Pyongyang’s unilateral denuclearization and demanded relief from punishing sanctions.
On Saturday North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations said denuclearization was now off the negotiating table with the United States and lengthy talks with Washington are not needed.
“The results of the recent important test will have an important effect on changing the strategic position of the DPRK once again in the near future,” KCNA reported, using the initials of North Korea’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The test is the latest in a string of statements and actions from North Korea designed to underscore the seriousness of its deadline.
North Korea has announced it would convene a rare gathering of top ruling-party officials later this month, and on Wednesday state media showed photos of leader Kim Jong Un taking a second symbolic horse ride on the country’s sacred Mt. Paektu.
Such meetings and propaganda blitzes often come ahead of major announcements from North Korean authorities.
While North Korea has not specified what its “new path” could be, observers have suggested the launch of a space satellite is a possibility, allowing Pyongyang to demonstrate and test its rocket capabilities without resorting to overt military provocation such as an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) launch.
“Such testing is meant to improve military capabilities and to shore up domestic pride and legitimacy,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said of Sunday’s test.
“North Korea is avoiding violations of its long-range missile test moratorium for now, but it is still improving the propulsion and precision of its missiles so that it can claim a credible nuclear deterrent,” he said.
Kim Dong-yub, a former South Korean Navy officer who teaches at Kyungnam University in Seoul, said North Korea may have tested a solid fuel rocket engine, which could allow North Korea to field ICBMs that are easier to hide and faster to deploy.
US President Donald Trump told reporters in June 2018 after his first summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un that North Korea had pledged to dismantle one of its missile installations, which US officials later identified as Sohae.
Shortly after that summit, analysts said satellite imagery showed some key facilities at Sohae being dismantled.
However, in the wake of the second summit between Trump and Kim earlier this year, which ended with no agreement, new imagery indicated the North Koreans were rebuilding the site.
At the time Trump said he would be “be very disappointed” if the reports of rebuilding were true.
“Remember this is at the site that was supposedly dismantled as a ‘denuclearization step,’” Narang said. “So this is a first step at ‘denuclearizing.’ Reversible steps are being ... reversed.”
In recent weeks, media reports indicated a high number of US military surveillance flights over the Korean peninsula, suggesting growing expectation of North Korean tests.
Commercial satellite imagery captured on Thursday by Planet Labs showed new activity at the Sohae Satellite Launching Station and the presence of a large shipping container, CNN reported, with analysts suggesting it indicated a test was imminent.


Singapore confirms first case of Wuhan virus

Updated 23 January 2020

Singapore confirms first case of Wuhan virus

Singapore Thursday confirmed its first case of the new SARS-like virus which has killed 17 people in China and spread to multiple countries including the United States.
The Ministry of Health (MOH) said the patient was a 66-year-old man from Wuhan who arrived in Singapore with his family on Monday.
He was immediately isolated after arriving at a hospital with a fever and cough, and test results later confirmed he was infected with the coronavirus.
One of his traveling companions, a 37-year-old man from Wuhan, has also been admitted to hospital as a suspect case.
Prior to admission, they had stayed at a hotel on the resort island of Sentosa, the ministry said.
It added that Singapore was expecting more cases and alarms “given the high volume of international travel.”
Moreover, tourists leaving Bangkok for China said on Thursday they were worried about the spread of the Wuhan virus, ahead of more air and train travel in the lead-up to the Lunar New Year holidays.
China has placed Wuhan, a city of 11 million, on lockdown, as it is considered the epicenter of a new coronavirus outbreak that has killed 17 and infected nearly 600.
Thailand has so far confirmed four cases of coronavirus, the largest number outside China. Two of the cases were Chinese women who have since been allowed to return home. Chinese tourists make up the largest group of visitors to Thailand.
At Bangkok’s Suvarnabhumi airport, masked visitors lined up as usual to check in for Southern China Airlines flights back to China.
AirAsia said on Thursday it has canceled direct flights between Wuhan and cities in Thailand and Malaysia until Jan 28.
Matt Thomas, who lives in the Chinese city of Xian, said he was worried about the new Chinese virus, especially because he once contracted swine flu which he described as “awful.”
“I’m a bit worried that it will repeat. I have just got to be safe. In these sorts of situations, you know, take everything seriously, don’t take any risks,” Thomas said.
Chinese health officials fear the transmission rate will accelerate, as hundreds of millions of Chinese travel at home and abroad during week-long holidays for the Lunar New Year.