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Analyst: North Korea's Failed Rocket Launch May Undermine New Leader

A professor specializing in Korean affairs says the immediate effect of Friday's North Korean satellite launch failure may be a loss of face for the North Korean leader but he warns that in the long term, if the United Nations fails to issue new sanctions against North Korea,  the regime in the north may acutally be strengthened. 



Waseda University Professor Toshimitsu Shigemura, a Korean affairs specialist and former correspondent in Seoul, believes North Korea’s failure to put a satellite into orbit has undermined Kim Jong Un’s position. “This failure was very, very serious for the new young leader of North Korea," he said. "First of all, it basically rocked his legitimacy as being able to rule the nation.”

Shigemura says the unsuccessful attempt has prevented Kim Jong Un from asserting his leadership, and caused him to lose face - an important concept in East Asian societies.

But he’s not surprised that North Korea acknowledged the failure. “The North Korean government responded quite quickly to the situation. In other words, they admitted that this was a failure quite early after the event. Part of the reason they did this is that they were afraid of rumors spreading very quickly,” Shigemura stated.

Shigemura cites the presence in North Korea of tens of thousands of Chinese tourists and businessmen who carry mobile phones, and would be able to relay any rumors outside the country.

Turning to future developments, he warns that North Korea will be eager to demonstrate its ability to resist foreign pressure in spectacular fashion.

“I think the likelihood of North Korea conducting another nuclear test is quite high. What we will probably see in the near future is that the U.N. will probably not issue new sanctions, but will strengthen the sanctions already issued," noted Shigemura. "And probably there will be some kind of new sanctions on an individual basis by the U.S. or Sorth Korea.”

Shigemura believes that if the U.N. fails to issue additional sanctions, North Korean leaders will be able to claim victory over their foreign enemies. He says they will consider themselves free to carry out other rocket launches and nuclear tests.

But the leadership’s ultimate concern, Shigemura says, is to keep the population convinced that opening up the country and introducing reforms would destroy the nation.

He says maintaining that fiction is the only way for the regime to hold on to power.

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