N.Korean Rocket Launch Aims to Boost Kim Jong-un

/Yonhap /Yonhap

North Korea's planned rocket launch between Dec. 10 and 22 more or less coincides with the first anniversary of former leader Kim Jong-il's death and young leader Kim Jong-un's rule. Officials here believe it is meant to boost the largely untested leader's kudos in the regime, but also point out that it coincides with the South Korean presidential election.

The rocket launch is widely believed to be a cover to test long-range missile technology, although the North claims it wants to put a satellite into orbit.

This could have an effect on voters here, who tend to support more dove-ish candidates when the military threat from North Korea increases.

The previous rocket launch attempt in April came in a month when North Korea celebrated the centenary of nation founder Kim Il-sung and hard on the heels of South Korea's general elections.

North Korea watchers believe the main purpose of the fresh launch attempt is to boost Kim junior's rule internally, rather than to flex its muscle on the international stage.

"North Korea is saying that [the rocket launch] aims to celebrate the first anniversary of the death of Kim Jong-il," said a high-ranking government official here. Kim Jong-un is apparently nervous that he does not have any achievements to call his own as he completes his first year in power, and experts agree that a successful rocket launch would be just what is needed in the eyes of the North Korean public.

The North Korean military, which has been rocked by purges aimed at bringing it to heel, may be seeking to restore its honor by successfully showing off advanced missile technology.

But Chung Young-tae at the Korea Institute for National Unification insisted it is "clear" that the launch aims to influence the presidential election in the South. "After announcing its missile launch plans on Saturday, North Korea demanded that conservative Saenuri Party presidential candidate Park Geun-hye change her policies toward the North by sending her a questionnaire drawn up by the Committee for the Peaceful Reunification of the Fatherland," he said.

Meanwhile, the South Korean military estimates that North Korea spent US$1.75 billion since 1998 to develop and test-fire long-range missiles. That includes the cost of building missile launch pads and a rudimentary satellite.

The two unsuccessful launches that took place in the North's Tongchang-ri missile base this year are believed to have cost North Korea $900 million. That alone would have been enough to buy 3.1 million tons of corn at today's market rate of around $290 per ton of the commodity and feed North Korea's 24 million people for 10 months. It would be six times the amount of food the North is short of this year, according to the UN.

englishnews@chosun.com / Dec. 03, 2012 11:32 KST