Seoul - When North Korea said Friday that it had tested a new, more advanced missile, it pointed the finger of blame at one man: Moon Jae-in, the South Korean president, who just last year embraced Kim Jong Un at their countries’ border.
The North said Kim, its leader, had personally arranged the missile test Thursday to counter what it called Moon’s “double-dealing”: talking peace with North Korea even as he bought state-of-the-art F-35 stealth jets and planned joint military drills with the United States.
Some analysts said Kim, in singling out Moon, was venting anger over his failure to win relief from crippling economic sanctions over his nuclear program, with talks between his government and the United States having stalled. On the day the North made its announcement, bad economic news arrived: South Korea’s central bank said the North’s economy had shrunk by 4.1 per cent last year, its worst contraction since 1997.
“Kim Jong Un is clearly frustrated,” said Ko Yu-hwan, a professor of North Korean studies at Dongguk University in Seoul, the South’s capital. “He had hoped that President Moon would be able to help persuade Washington to ease sanctions. He now seems to have concluded that South Korea is really at Washington’s beck and call.”
North Korea has been hit hard by a series of United Nations sanctions imposed since 2016, aimed at blocking all its key exports - like coal, textiles and fisheries - and drastically reducing its oil imports as well. Its economy shrank by 3.5 per cent in 2017, according to the South’s central bank.
The bank’s statement Friday also said that North Korea’s external trade declined 48.8 per cent last year, with its exports plummeting by as much as 86.3 per cent. Unsurprisingly, it attributed the North’s woes to the international sanctions.
Kim’s diplomatic outreach early last year to South Korea and the United States, after years of missile and nuclear tests and bombastic threats, was widely seen as driven by an urgent need to end the sanctions. But three meetings with President Donald Trump and several with Moon have failed to win Kim the economic relief he has promised his people.
Since then, his indignation has been mostly directed toward South Korea and Moon. He has demanded that the South implement the ambitious inter-Korean economic projects that he and Moon agreed to pursue in meetings last year. But Moon has agreed with the Trump administration’s position that such projects must wait until sanctions are eased as part of a nuclear disarmament deal.