‘Fire arrow’ missile: Is Kim ready for war? – Asian Media Report

Feb 3, 2024
A photo of a nuclear missile toy placed on a map of North Korea using a Google public map.

In Asian media this week: Debate gets serious about North Korea’s intentions. Plus: Another Thai progressive party beaten by the court system; Pakistan’s shameful history of removing PMs; India’s Hindu temple celebration will help government; HK’s security law at sprint stage; Interest surges in Oppenheimer’s devastation

Over the past 10 days North Korea has launched three cruise missile tests, including weapons that are designed to be launched from submarines and appear to be nuclear-capable.

The missiles tested are named Hwasal-1 and -2 and Pulhwasal-3-31. According to The Korea Times, Hwasal means arrow and Pulhwasal means fire arrow.

The Pukhwasal missile carries the same number as Hwasan-31, a tactical nuclear warhead unveiled last year.

The paper said experts believed identical numbering made it likely the Pulhwasal missiles could carry nuclear warheads.

The Korea Herald said the Rodong Sinmun, newspaper of the Pyongyang Workers’ Party, reported that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had expressed profound satisfaction with the test firings.

Recent North Korea “provocations” (as their belligerent acts are known) has ignited a debate about Kim’s intentions. In a long feature article The Japan Times asked the question: “Is North Korea’s Kim preparing for an actual war?” The piece discusses the issues but avoids reaching a conclusion.

Writing in The Korea Times, Professor Choo Jae-woo, an international relations expert at Kyung Hee University, agrees that Kim has been barking so loudly he has awakened his neighbours.

He says, however, North Korea’s economy has been in a sad state since Kim took control 12 years ago. ‘Kim’s bluster, therefore, is due to his country’s damaged financial situation,” he says.

But Hugh White, emeritus professor of strategic studies at the Australian National University, rings an alarm. Analysts believe North Korea has at least 20 – and perhaps as many as 70 – nuclear weapons, he says in an article in Singapore’s The Straits Times. And the country has sophisticated missiles to deliver them – missiles that can reach the United States.

“It can be tempting to see Mr Kim’s recent statements as just more of the bluster we have heard so often before,” White says. “But seasoned and highly credible analysts are taking these threats seriously.

“They believe that Mr Kim could well be contemplating war.”

Royalist values trounce democratic reform

Thailand’s Constitutional Court has, once again, intervened decisively in the country’s political system, leaving the progressive Move Forward Party under grave threat of dissolution.

The party’s leaders are similarly at risk of being banned from politics.

The court’s ruling effectively barred the party from trying to amend Thailand’s lese majeste law, the Thai Enquirer news site said –highlighting the country’s struggle between traditional royalist values and democratic reform.

The lese majeste law – section 112 of the penal code – makes it an offence to insult the king, queen, heir-apparent or regent. The penalty is up to 15 years’ imprisonment for each conviction.

Move Forward wanted to amend the law but the court held the party had a “hidden intention to weaken the royal institution”. It ordered the party to stop all attempts to change the law.

Bangkok Post said the ruling could set the stage for a move to dissolve the party and ban its leaders from politics.

One day after the court’s decision, former senator Ruangkrai Leekiwattana filed a petition with the Election Commission, asking it to launch a case in the Constitutional Court seeking the party’s dissolution.

Ruangkrai would also file a related petition with the National Anti-Corruption Commission, the paper reported.

It noted in an editorial that the wording of the court’s ruling was startling – “perhaps the most severe and serious that this party or any Thai party has ever faced”.

The court had said the party’s campaign was part of a gradual process that showed an intention “to drag the royal institution down from its revered status”.

ThaiPBSWorld news site reported Move Forward Party leader Chaithawat Tulathon as saying the ruling would deprive Thai society of the chance to have the parliamentary system resolve political conflict in the future.

Khan’s triple-conviction recalls previous trials

Pakistan has a shameful tradition of removing political leaders through dubious trials. That is the view of commentator Zahid Hussain.

“In what many would describe as a predetermined verdict, a special court has sentenced former prime minister Imran Khan and his erstwhile foreign minister to a decade behind bars for violating the Official Secrets Act,” Hussain wrote in Dawn newspaper.

He said the ruling was announced just a week before general elections. It was a reminder of the trials and conviction of previous prime ministers. The elections are to be held on Thursday.

Khan has been convicted three times, Dawn reported.

He and his wife, Bushra Bibi, were sentenced on Wednesday to 14 years imprisonment in a case involving official gifts.

On Tuesday, Khan and former foreign minister Shah Mehmood Qureshi were sentenced to 10 years in prison for a breach of state secrets. In August, Khan was convicted on official gifts matters and given a three-year sentence.

(The official gifts cases are referred to as the Toshakhana reference, after the government department that stores valuables officials have received.)

Hussain, an author and journalist, was writing after Khan’s second conviction but before the third.

He said Khan’s party, the PTI (Pakistan Tehreek-e-Insaf) had been subjected to an unprecedented crackdown.

“Despite all the state repression, the PTI has remained a formidable force,” he said. “The sentencing of its two main leaders on the eve of polls seems intended to demoralise the party’s supporters but the action could also have the opposite result by motivating its supporters to come out to vote in larger numbers.”

Rival narratives about Modi’s ‘Hinduness’

Indian President Narendra Modi last month inaugurated the Ram Mandir, or Rama Temple.

It is a Hindu temple, built on the site of a now-demolished mosque – and said to be the birthplace of Lord Rama, a principal Hindu deity.

“Rarely has the nation witnessed the kind of euphoria as it did during the inauguration,” said an article in The Statesman newspaper.

The article, written by retired Major-General Harsha Kakar, said the celebration would help Modi in this year’s elections. But it noted there was a battle of narratives about the temple.

“The event was closely observed and commented upon across the world,” he wrote. “Comments varied depending on how the nation or publication views India.”

There were rival narratives in Indian media, too. A piece in the Firstpost news site, said the inauguration saw an extraordinary celebration of exuberant splendour.

The temple, it said, was “built on what is believed, for thousands of years, by one of the oldest practicing belief systems in the world, Hinduism, to be the birthplace of their spiritual saviour”.

But a commentary in The Hindu said a mammoth, state-sponsored spectacle had undermined the basic structure of the country’s constitution for India to be a secular nation.

‘The ruling Bharatiya Janata Party’s agenda… is not just making the state ‘theocratic’ and the majority religion ‘political’,” the article said. “It is part of an unprecedented effort to create a unidimensional culture in a nation that has been the home of a multitude of cultural practices.”

This thought is echoed in the view from Muslim Pakistan. Retired ambassador Javid Husain, said in a commentary published by Dawn newspaper two critical developments were transforming India, with implications for its minorities, the region and the rest of the world.

“The first and foremost is the transformation of a secular India, as envisioned by its founding fathers, into a Hindu rashtra [polity] driven by Hindutva [Hinduness],” Husain said.

“The second development is the rapid economic growth of India over the past three decade, which has catapulted its economy to the fifth position.”

Discussion paper short on information

Hong Kong already has a national security law, imposed by Beijing in 2020, following protests and rioting in the city. Now the city’s government is introducing a domestic national security law.

This is required under Article 23 of its Basic Law, a mini-constitution, but the timing has not been explained. The government tried to pass a security law 21 years ago but gave up when it faced massive opposition.

The government this week released a consultation paper on the proposed law. South China Morning Post said in a long report the paper focused on five target activities, five new crimes and 14 changes to existing laws.

“The paper did not spell out new penalties,” SCMP said. “It only cited foreign examples.

“For example, in introducing the offence of insurrection, the government said Australia imposed life sentences for similar crimes.”

Global Times, one of Beijing’s official newspapers, said in an editorial the Basic Law had been in effect for more than 26 years – long enough for Hong Kong to clarify obstacles and ambiguous areas.

“The occurrence of the Hong Kong version of the ‘colour revolution’ during the violent riots of 2019 is closely related to the absence of Article 23 legislation, indicating the necessity and urgency of enacting this legislation,” the editorial said.

“The legislation… has officially entered the sprint stage.”

Hong barrister Ronny Tong Ka-wah, a member of the government’s Executive Council, said more clarity was needed to reassure investors of the city’s status as a financial hub.

SCMP said Tong wanted authorities to define ‘state secrets’ more clearly. “Information on military or diplomatic arrangements are more clearly understood to be state secrets,” he said. “But for technological and economic development policies, I agree that the line should be drawn more clearly.”

But ucanews.com, the Catholic Asian news site, expressed concern about the future of Hong Kong’s religious freedoms.

Benedict Rogers, the site’s human rights columnist, said as Beijing continued to dismantle Hong Kong’s freedoms and autonomy, the screws were tightening on the city’s religious communities.

“The announcement yesterday of a “public consultation’ … is merely a veneer,” Rogers said. “No serious, substantive critique of, or dissent from, the proposed new law is likely to be tolerated or taken into account.”

People keen to learn about Hiroshima’s history

Japanese distributors have been anxious about releasing Oppenheimer, the movie about the development of the atomic bomb – especially after “Barbenheimer” memes mixing visuals of the film Barbie with nuclear bomb blasts provoked outrage in Japan.

The Japan Times reported Oppenheimer would be released on March 29. It quoted a representative of the distributors as saying the decision to release the film came after much debate and deliberation.

Distributors might be unsure whether Japanese people want to watch the story of the creator of nuclear destruction but there is growing interest in learning about the destruction his bomb caused.

Visitor interest in the Hiroshima Peace Memorial has surged, The Asahi Shimbun said this week. The museum is bringing in an online ticket reservation system to help ease congestion.

The paper said visitor interest had increased following last year’s G-7 meeting in the city.

In August, visitors had to wait in the summer heat for two hours.

“Visitor numbers swell in August,” the paper said. “The city holds an annual remembrance service for the tens of thousands of people killed in the Aug. 6, 1945, atomic bombing.”

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