North Korea marked the 69th anniversary of its founding Saturday with typical ceremonies and fanfare as the international community watched for another potential missile test.
The South Korean government said it was closely monitoring activity in the North as speculation mounted about another missile launch that could be connected to the commemoration of the establishment in 1948 of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
Earlier in the week, South Korea said it had seen signs of preparation for another missile test, with South Korean Prime Minister Lee Nak-yon calling the situation “very grave.” By Saturday evening, no test had been detected.
North Korea has a history of using its military technology to mark significant holidays. Last year, on this date, North Korea tested its fifth nuclear device. The anniversary this year comes just a week after North Korea launched its sixth nuclear test, its most powerful to date.
James McKeon, a North Korea policy analyst at the Center for Arms Control in Washington, D.C., told VOA it wouldn’t be surprising if the country prepared some kind of missile or nuclear test to mark the holiday this year. Even if it does, however, he said it won’t make for a major development in the already tense relationship between North Korea and the United States.
“They’ve already tested, last year, more than two dozen ballistic missiles. This year they’re on pace to hit at least two dozen ballistic missile tests, if not more. They’ve already done another nuclear test, the largest test that they’ve ever done,” he said. “No matter what they do, it’s still not going to be a major advancement.”
‘Keeping a close watch’
A South Korean defense ministry spokesman told the French news agency there had been no signs Saturday of further preparations for a missile launch.
He said North Korea has the ability to fire ballistic missiles from mobile launchers, so “the [South Korean] military is maintaining its utmost defense posture, keeping a close watch over the North.”
According to McKeon, the North has the technology to launch missiles from “almost anywhere in the country,” and has used tactics in the past to try and evade detection from international intelligence services.
“Their last test, for example, of a missile - the one that overflew Japan - was actually launched from the airport in Pyongyang,” he said. “So it’s difficult for the American intelligence community, and the international community in general, to be able to see exactly where they’re going to be testing their missiles.”
He noted, though, “That doesn’t mean that we won’t have an idea” where the tests will occur.
“There are reports that because the last test, for example, was on the runway, that the U.S. government knew about it in advance, we had satellite reconnaissance that likely confirmed it before it went off,” he said.”
The South Korean Yonhap news agency quoted an unidentified government official as saying that the North could carry out a seventh nuclear test at its Punggye-ri test site at any moment, and it may hold another nuclear test in October to coincide with the founding anniversary of the ruling Workers' Party.