North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has inspected a new submarine that was built under “his special attention” and is soon to be deployed to the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
Kim inspected the operational and tactical data and combat weapon systems of the submarine, according to the North’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
“The operational capacity of a submarine is an important component in national defense of our country, [which is] bounded on its east and west by sea,” Kim said.
Kim “stressed the need to steadily and reliably increase the national defense capability by directing big efforts to the development of the naval weapons and equipment such as submarines.”
The North has a large submarine fleet but only one known experimental submarine capable of carrying a ballistic missile.
The KCNA report did not clarify whether the new submarine was capable of carrying ballistic missiles. But analysts believe that based on the size of the submarine, it appears designed to eventually carry missiles.
In reaction, South Korea said it was “closely monitoring the situation.”
The report also did not say where and when the inspection by Kim took place but said that during the inspection, Kim was accompanied by the officials who have played a major role in missile development, and probably in the development of nuclear weapons.
“This, to my eye, is the submarine that the US intelligence community has been calling the Sinpo-C, a successor to North Korea’s only known ballistic missile submarine,” said Ankit Panda, senior fellow at the US-based Federation of American Scientists.
He made the remarks based on commercial satellite imagery released last year.
US-based monitoring group 38 North said in a report in June 2018 that Pyongyang appeared to be continuing submarine construction at its Sinpo Shipyard, of possibly another Sinpo-class ballistic missile submarine.
“We can clearly see that it is a massive submarine — much larger than the existing one that’s been well known since 2014,” Panda said.
Panda said the development of the submarine was conveying a political message and that “we should be taking Kim Jong-un’s end-of-year deadline for the implementation of a change in US policy with the utmost seriousness.”
Back in April, Kim said that he would wait until the end of the year “for the US to make a courageous decision” changing its attitude toward Pyongyang.
Kim and US President Donald Trump have met three times, two of them to discuss the demilitarization of the Korean Peninsula. Their second meeting failed in Vietnam, when Trump abruptly walked away from the meeting, claiming that Kim had insisted on the removal of all sanctions on North Korea. Pyongyang however rejected that account, stressing that it had only asked for a partial lifting of the bans.
Following the failure of the summit, the North repeatedly warned that it was considering ending talks on denuclearization and resuming its nuclear and missile tests over what it described as “the gangster-like stand” of the US.
In their third, brief meeting at the Korean border at the end of June, Kim and Trump agreed to kick-start working-level talks.