2017 ANU Korea Update to put North Korean actions in perspective

22 September 2017

The seemingly erratic actions of North Korea's recent missile testing make sense when put into the larger perspective of US and South Korean (ROK) operations, attendees of the ANU 2017 Korea Update heard on Friday.

Event organiser and Director of the ANU Korea Institute, Dr Roald Maliangkaij, said North Korean missile launches have often responded directly to US-ROK military exercises in the region.

"They don't just happen," Dr Maliangkaij said. "In the recent past North Korea often threw a bomb within a day of military exercises between the US and South Korea."

"If you look at the time-line of the first missile fired over Japan's city of Hokkaido, it happened the morning after large-scale US exercises finished in the same location.

"So North Korea is responding in kind," he said.

Dr Maliangkaij said the key to resolving the current tensions could lie with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who himself is managing a sensitive domestic political environment following a corruption scandal that brought down South Korea's  first female president Park Geun-hye.

"Jae-in was only elected in May this year when democratic elections were more-or-less forced by the people," Dr Maliangkaij said.

"Now he has the eyes of the world on him and it's not easy when the North Koreans are throwing these bombs around."

"Prior to the escalation of tensions he was in the process of reaching out to North Korea and spoke of making conciliatory gestures to the North."

"You don't hear him say that anymore. He's had to take a step back. He has been noticeably vague in recent weeks."

The 2017 Korea Update has brought together key representatives from the academic and policy-making communities to discuss political, economic, security and social issues related to the Korean Peninsula.