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Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
North Korea yesterday afternoon conducted a “very important” test at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground, a top official with the country’s Academy of the National Defence Science said in a statement on Sunday.
“A very important test took place at the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground on the afternoon of December 7, 2019,” a spokesperson for the academy said, adding the results of the test had been reported to the North Korean ruling party’s Central Committee.
“The results of the recent important test will have an important effect on changing the strategic position of the DPRK once again in the near future,” they added.
The comments, carried by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), do not go into detail about precisely what kind of test took place, meaning it is unclear if was related to the nations missile or space exploration programs.
“We might presume it was a ground-based static test of a liquid propellant engine,” Ankit Panda, an adjunct senior fellow at the Federation of American Scientists, told NK News.
“Explicitly, the statement suggests that whatever was tested will likely have a missile application given the involvement of the Academy of the National Defence Science in announcing the test and the reference to the ‘strategic position’ of North Korea,” he added.
The North Korean leader was reported to have promised to dismantle the Sohae Satellite Launching Ground — the reported site of Saturday’s test — following his June 2018 Singapore summit with U.S. President Donald Trump.
He then reaffirmed that commitment in a subsequent September meeting with South Korean leader Moon Jae-in.
As a result, Panda said that Sunday’s news was “also a useful way to push back on the Singapore process, since Trump had specifically bragged the Kim had agreed to shut down and dismantle the Sohae static engine test stand.”
Satellite imagery showed that the DPRK began dissembling the facility in summer 2018. However, as dialogue stagnated between the two countries, progress soon slowed.
Yet by March 2019 satellite imagery showed that North Korea had begun actively reconstructing those parts of the facility which had been previously demolished.
At the time Trump indicated he would be unhappy if Pyongyang went ahead with any launch activity at Sohae.
“I would be very disappointed if that were happening,” Trump told reporters in March when asked about signs of construction at the Sohae facility. “I would be very, very disappointed in Chairman Kim.”
This weekend’s test is the first to take place at the site since March 2017, when the country was reported to have conducted a ground jet test of a new high-thrust rocket engine.
It comes amid growing tensions between the U.S. and North Korea, which has sought to increasingly remind Washington in recent weeks of a looming end of year deadline for diplomacy to produce results.
Furthermore, it notably comes after WMD analyst Jeffrey Lewis wrote about the appearance of a shipping container at an engine test stand at the Sohae Satellite Launch Facility satellite last week.
Spotted in commercially accessible satellite imagery of the area, the shipping container became visible after Thursday, Lewis told CNN, with its presence suggesting North Korean personnel may have been preparing to resume engine testing there.
North Korea last conducted a satellite launch in February 2016, aboard the Unha-3 space launch vehicle.
Though it has not conducted any satellite launches since, the DPRK’s English language Pyongyang Times has regularly reported on the right to international space exploration, while North Korea hosted a recent symposium on space exploration.
Featured image: KCNA, file photo