By testing a short-range tactical weapon, North Korea is playing its cards cautiously, analysts said. Mr. Kim can raise pressure on Washington with such a test but still be able to claim that he has not reneged on the moratorium.
Karl Dewey, a senior analyst at Jane’s by IHS Markit, said that North Korea’s “stress on the weapon’s tactical nature” was “primarily aimed at a domestic audience, rather than signaling a shift in North Korea’s strategic approach to U.S. talks.”
But other analysts said the test was a more ominous signal aimed at Washington.
“It is a message from Kim Jong-un that he no longer trusts Trump or Moon Jae-in, and that he is ready to go his own way,” said Lee Byong-chul, another North Korea expert at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies. “He is showing that there will be no buckling under or compromising under American pressure. This may well be Mr. Kim’s first step to raise tensions on the Korean Peninsula.”
The test came amid news reports that Mr. Kim planned to meet President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia in the far eastern city of Vladivostok next week. On Thursday, the Kremlin said in a brief statement that the two would meet this month, giving no specific date.
North Korea relies on China and Russia, which have veto power on the United Nations Security Council, to serve as a buffer against American efforts to impose more sanctions. Both China and Russia also host tens of thousands of North Korean laborers, who are an important source of badly needed hard currency for Mr. Kim’s regime. A report by the United Nations sanctions committee has accused Russian entities of involvement in illegal ship-to-ship transfers of oil and coal to help North Korea evade sanctions.
North Korea depends on China for more than 93 percent of its external trade. But with Beijing tied up by the trade war with Washington, the North Koreans may need Russian help more than ever in helping to blunt the pain of sanctions, analysts said.
”Kim doesn’t want to put all his eggs in China’s basket since there is heavy reliance on the country for North Korea’s economic livelihood,” David Kim, a research analyst at the Washington-based Stimson Center, said by email. “Kim Jong-un wants to show the U.S. that China is not their only option.”
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