North Korea to exploit launch to bolster regime

Regardless of whether North Korea’s rocket launch was a success or failure, analysts say the regime will spin the news to bolster support amid lingering uncertainty about the health of leader Kim Jong-Il.

Sunday’s launch was “a great historic event heralding the victorious advent of a great prosperous and powerful nation”, the ruling communist party newspaper Rodong Sinmun proclaimed on Tuesday.

Blast-off came just four days before the first meeting on Thursday of the country’s new legislature, which will formally re-elect Kim
to his top post.

The North says it put into orbit an experimental communications satellite, which is beaming “immortal revolutionary songs” in praise of founding president Kim Il-Sung and his son.

South Korea, Japan and the US military say no satellite has been detected in orbit. Foreign analysts have described the launch as a failed test of a long-range missile, saying the second and third stages apparently failed to separate.

But very few people in the closed communist state will read their assessment.

“They [the regime] can spin the story in all sorts of ways and misrepresent facts to their people,” said Daniel Pinkston, senior analyst with the International Crisis Group.

While there could be soul-searching within the regime at the mission’s apparent failure, he said, “it will be quite easy for them to depict it as a success to the vast majority of people.”

Pyongyang is eager for a propaganda coup.

There are widespread reports Kim suffered a stroke last August.

While apparently largely recovered, the incident has raised questions about who would succeed the 67-year-old.

North Korea is also seen as trying to strengthen its hand against Washington in future nuclear disarmament negotiations, but Pinkston and other analysts said domestic considerations were the main motive for the launch.

“It’s increasingly clear the launch was driven by domestic considerations,” said Peter Beck of the American University in Washington DC.

“The regime wants to rally the cadres and the elite. Clearly, Kim Jong-Il knows the clock is ticking. For him, securing the succession is far more important than a nuclear deal.”

Beck told AFP the launch, especially before one planned by South Korea in July, could be used to demonstrate “the vitality of the regime and a justification for family rule”.

Yang Moo-Jin, professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, said the regime “has succeeded in rallying its people and the elite and support for Chairman Kim Jong-Il”.

Yang said it would also use its missile capability to strengthen its hand in future bilateral negotiations with Washington.

“But if Washington opts to get tougher with the North, Pyongyang will react accordingly, prepare for a second nuclear test and more rocket launches.”

Beck said the launch would not in fact improve Pyongyang’s negotiating position.

“It will drive Seoul into the arms of Washington and harden the Obama administration’s approach to North Korea since it can’t look too soft.”

But he forecast that negotiations to free two US journalists detained for an alleged illegal border-crossing could give the two sides an opportunity to talk.

“Where you go from there is another question. At this point the North has proven not serious about negotiating, at least not serious about compromising,” he said, adding he does not rule out a second nuclear test.

South Korean media and analysts have noted that while the launch was only a partial success, the Taepodong-2 missile still travelled some 3 200km—twice as far as a Taepodong-1 in 1998.

“From North Korea’s standpoint, the launch was a success as its ballistic missile range has been extended twofold now,” said Kim Sung-Han, an international politics professor at Korea University.

He said the leadership would use it both to strengthen internal unity to support the regime and as a negotiating tactic.

Kim said the North, in a very unusual move, apparently on Sunday notified the United States, Russia and China that blast-off was imminent.

“It unveiled its intention to negotiate the missile issue directly with the United States later.”

The North, he said, hopes to put the six-party talks on a lower track while prioritising bilateral negotiations with Washington. - AFP

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