Published;26 Dec 2017 12:54
SEOUL (Korea Herald/ANN Desk) – Official forecast says Pyongyang will change tack in 2018, emboldened by nuclear advances
North Korea is likely to explore the possibility of dialogue with the United States in 2018 as the communist state seeks recognition as a nuclear-armed country, South Korea’s Ministry of Unification said on Tuesday.
“North Korea may continue to advance its nuclear and missile capabilities while searching for an outlet externally,” the ministry said in its predictions for North Korea in 2018. “In searching for the recognition of its status as a de facto nuclear-possessing state, [the North] would explore the possibility of negotiations with the US.”
At the same time, the North is also likely to attempt to engage with South Korea in order to restore inter-Korean relations next year, it said. The ministry will monitor North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s New Year address on January 1 to see if it alludes to such possibilities.
In 2017, Pyongyang has distanced itself from dialogue and engagement with Seoul as it prioritised dealing with the US, according to the ministry.
Next year, North Korea is expected to start to feel the pinch of international and bilateral sanctions on the country’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes, the ministry said.
“North Korea is forecast to maximise efforts to endure [the impact of sanctions] by tightening social control and mobilising its people for building the economy,” the ministry said. It predicted the sanctions’ economic impacts may start to show in 2018, with effects including cuts in trade volume and foreign currency inflow, as well as reduced production in various economy sectors.
North Korea’s economy is already suffering the affects of sanctions, with foreign countries taking fewer North Korean workers as well as cutting humanitarian assistance to the North, according to the Unification Ministry.
North Korea’s exports to China, its largest trading partner, tumbled 31.7 per cent to US$1.6 billion in the January-November period, compared to a year earlier. The overall North Korea-China trade volume in the January-November period dropped 10.2 per cent on-year to $4.67 billion, according to the ministry data.
Rice prices and the US dollar-North Korean won exchange rate remain relatively stable with one kilo of rice fetching around 5,000 won and one US dollar exchanged for some 8,000 won recently. But they are currently showing signs of rapid price changes, the ministry noted.
Gas prices in North Korea have risen about two to three times this year, it also said, indicating United Nations Security Council sanctions’ tightening grip on North Korea’s oil procurement.
‘Satellite launch imminent’
Pyongyang is preparing to launch a satellite, a Seoul newspaper said on Tuesday, as outside observers warn that the nuclear-armed regime’s space programme is a fig leaf for weapons tests.
“Through various channels, we’ve recently learned that the North has completed a new satellite and named it Kwangmyongsong-5”, the Joongang Ilbo daily reported, quoting a South Korean government source.
“Their plan is to put a satellite equipped with cameras and telecommunication devices into orbit”, he said.
Independent observers warn that Pyongyang’s fledgling space programme is a cover for its weapons tests.
The North launched its Kwangmyongsong-4 satellite in February 2016, which most in the international community condemned as a disguised ballistic missile test, AFP reports.
The North’s latest missile test, on November 29, showed the capability of reaching mainland United States and prompted another round of international sanctions. The latest UN resolution bans the supply of nearly 75 per cent of refined oil products to the North, caps crude deliveries at current levels and orders all North Koreans working abroad to be sent back by the end of 2019.
It also bans sales of all industrial machinery, trucks, iron, steel and other metals to the North and added 15 Pyongyang officials to the UN sanctions blacklist for global visa ban and assets freeze.