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People watch the news at a station in Seoul after it was reported that North Korea had fired a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan on September 28. Photo: EPA-EFE

South Korea, US envoys to meet after North Korea’s latest missile test

  • Seoul’s top nuclear envoy Noh Kyu-duk spoke on the phone with the US special representative Sung Kim, and agreed to meet him in Jakarta on Thursday
  • This came after North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the sea, giving mixed signals over its recent statements about improving inter-Korean relations
North Korea
South Korea’s top nuclear envoy, Noh Kyu-duk, and US special representative for North Korea Sung Kim on Tuesday spoke on the phone and arranged to meet in person on Thursday to discuss ways to cooperate in dealing with the nuclear-armed North, the foreign ministry said.

Noh and Kim decided to meet in person in Indonesia on Thursday for further discussions. Kim currently doubles as the US ambassador to Jakarta.

This came hours after North Korea fired what is believed to be a short-range ballistic missile from the northern province of Jagang into the Sea of Japan or East Sea, a move widely seen by analysts as testing Seoul’s reaction.
Tuesday’s launch came days after Kim Yo-jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, said Pyongyang was willing to improve inter-Korean relations and even discuss a summit with Seoul.

She added, however, that this can only happen when the South drops its hostile attitude against the regime and the double standards of calling the North’s weapons tests “provocations” while conducting its own such tests.

South Korea’s foreign ministry said the two envoys discussed the “recent statements” as well as the missile launch and ways to respond.

“They agreed on the need for the stable management of the Korean peninsula situation and watertight coordination between South Korea and the US,” the ministry said in a statement.

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Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies said the South was likely “nudging the US toward the resumption of dialogue with the North as the improvement of inter-Korean relations hinges on US-North Korean ties”.

“Noh was likely calling for the US to move more actively in order to reopen talks with the North for stability and peace on the Korean peninsula,” Yang told This Week in Asia.

Talks between Pyongyang and Washington have largely been at a standstill since the last summit between the North Korean leader and former US president Donald Trump in Hanoi in 2019.

South Korea's chief nuclear envoy Noh Kyu-duk. Photo: EPA-EFE

According to Yang, Pyongyang is likely to assess Seoul’s response to Tuesday’s launch and see how genuine it is in its willingness to improve inter-Korean ties.

Analysts believe North Korea could be eying a summit involving the South, the US and China, after South Korean President Moon Jae-in called for talks, possibly at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.

But the latest missile launch comes amid mixed messages from the North, calling for mutual respect and dangling the prospect of a summit on one hand, while continuing to carry out tests on the other.

Yang said it remained unclear if Pyongyang was genuinely seeking to improve relations with Seoul or if it was playing for time to build up its nuclear arsenal and overcome its economic hardship which was exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic.

North Korea open to closer ties with Seoul, ending Korean war: Kim Yo-jong

South Korea’s National Security Committee held an emergency meeting after Tuesday’s launch and released a statement saying it “expressed regret for the launch at a time when political stability on the Korean peninsula is very critical”.

The US State Department condemned the launch, saying it violated United Nations Security Council resolutions.

US special representative for North Korea, Sung Kim, attends a trilateral meeting with Japan and South Korea. Photo: AP

But at the UN General Assembly in New York, North Korea’s ambassador to the UN Kim Song insisted that Pyongyang has the right to “develop, test, manufacture and possess” weapons systems similar to those of the South.

“We are just building up our national defence in order to defend ourselves and reliably safeguard the security and peace of the country,” he said.

North Korea fires ‘projectile’ as it insists on right to self-defence

Both countries have carried out several missile launches this month. The North tested what are believed to be long-range and short-range cruise missiles, while the South tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) and on Tuesday launched its third SLBM submarine.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Seoul, U.S. envoys to meet on north