North Koreans denounce critics of rocket launch
Mass rally in Pyongyang pays homage to ruler Kim Jong-un and predecessors
The Associated Press
Posted: Dec 14, 2012 9:08 AM ET
Last Updated: Dec 14, 2012 9:17 AM ET
A triumphant North Korea staged a mass rally of soldiers and civilians Friday to glorify the country's young ruler, who took a big gamble this week in sending a satellite into orbit in defiance of international warnings.
Wednesday's rocket launch came just eight months after a similar attempt ended in an embarrassing public failure, and just under a year after Kim Jong-un inherited power following the death of his father.
The surprising success of the launch may have earned Kim global condemnation, but at home, the gamble paid off, at least in the short term. To his people, it made the 20-something Kim appear powerful, capable and determined in the face of foreign adversaries.North Korean leader Kim Jong-un claps at the General Satellite Control and Command Center after the launch of the Unha-3 rocket in this picture released Friday by the North's KCNA news agency. (Reuters/KCNA)
Workers' Party Secretary Kim Ki Nam told the crowd, bundled up against a winter chill in the heart of the capital, that "hostile forces" had dubbed the launch a missile test. He denied the claim and called on North Koreans to stand their ground against the "cunning" critics.
In response, the tens of thousands of North Koreans who packed snowy Kim Il-sung Square clenched their fists in a unified show of resolve as a military band tooted horns and pounded on drums.
Huge red banners positioned in the square called on North Koreans to defend Kim Jong-un with their lives. They also paid homage to Kim Jong-un's father, Kim Jong-il, and his grandfather, North Korean founder Kim Il-sung.
Pyongyang says the rocket put a crop and weather monitoring satellite into orbit. Much of the rest of the world sees it as a thinly disguised test of banned long-range missile technology. It could bring a fresh round of UN sanctions that would increase his country's international isolation. At the same time, the success of the launch could strengthen North Korea's military, the only entity that poses a potential threat to Kim's rule.
To his people, the launch's success, 14 years after North Korea's first attempt, shows more than a little of the gambling spirit in the third Kim to rule North Korea since it became a country in 1948.South Koreans watch a TV news report on the launch of the Unha rocket from Tongchang-ri, North Korea, at Seoul Railway Station on Wednesday. (Ahn Young-joon/Associated Press)
"North Korean officials will long be touting Kim Jong Un as a gutsy leader" who commanded the rocket launch despite being new to the job and young, said Kim Byung-ro, a North Korea specialist at Seoul National University in South Korea.
The propaganda machinery churned into action early Friday, with state media detailing how Kim Jong-un issued the order to fire off the rocket just days after scientists fretted over technical issues, ignoring the chorus of warnings from Washington to Moscow against a move likely to invite more sanctions.
Top officials followed Kim's suit in defiantly shrugging off the international condemnation of the launch.
Workers' Party Secretary Kim Ki Nam told the crowd Friday that "hostile forces" had dubbed the launch a missile test. He rejected the claim, and rallied North Koreans to stand their ground against the "cunning" critics.
North Korea called the satellite a gift to Kim Jong-un's late father, Kim Jong-il, who is said to have set the lofty goal of getting a satellite into space and then tapped his son to see it into fruition. The satellite, which North Korean scientists say is designed to send back data about crops and weather, was named Kwangmyongsong, or "Lode Star" — the nickname legendarily given to the elder Kim at birth.
'North Korean officials will long be touting Kim Jong-un as a gutsy leader.'—Kim Byung-ro, a North Korea specialist at Seoul National University
Kim Jong-il died on Dec. 17, 2011, making the successful launch a fitting mourning tribute. State TV have been replaying video of the launch to "Song of Gen. Kim Jong-il."
But it is the son who will bask in the glory of the accomplishment, as well as face the international censure that may follow.
Even while he was being groomed to succeed his father, Kim Jong Un had been portrayed as championing science and technology as a way to lift North Korea out of decades of economic hardship.
Thousands link arms in street march
"It makes me happy that our satellite is flying in space," Pyongyang citizen Jong Sun Hui said as Friday's ceremony came to a close and tens of thousands rushed into the streets, many linking arms as they went.
"The satellite launch demonstrated our strong power and the might of our science and technology once again," she told The Associated Press. "And it also clearly testifies to a thriving nation in our near future."
Aside from winning him support from the people, the success of the launch helps his image as he works to consolidate power over a government crammed with elderly, old-school lieutenants of his father and grandfather, foreign analysts said.
Experts say that what is unclear, however, is whether Kim will continue to smoothly solidify power, steering clear of friction with the powerful military while dealing with the strong possibility of more crushing sanctions against a country with what the United Nations calls a serious hunger problem.
"Certainly in the short run, this is an enormous boost to his prestige," according to Marcus Noland, a North Korea analyst at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington.
Noland, however, also mentioned the "Machiavellian argument" that this could cause future problems for Kim by significantly boosting the power of the military — "the only real threat to his rule."
Successfully firing a rocket was so politically crucial for Kim at the onset of his rule that he allowed an April launch to go through even though it resulted in the collapse of a nascent food-aid-for-nuclear-freeze deal with the United States, said North Korea analyst Kim Yeon-su of Korea National Defence University in Seoul.
The launch success consolidates his image as inheritor of his father's legacy. But it could end up deepening North Korea's political and economic isolation, he said.
On Friday, the section at the rally reserved for foreign diplomats was noticeably sparse as UN officials and some European envoys stayed away from the celebration, as they did in April after the last launch.
Despite the success, experts say North Korea is years from even having a shot at developing reliable missiles that could bombard the American mainland and other distant targets.
North Korea will need larger and more dependable missiles, and more advanced nuclear weapons, to threaten U.S. shores, though it already poses a shorter-range missile threat to its neighbours.
The next big question is how the outside world will punish Pyongyang — and try to steer North Korea from what could come next: a nuclear test. In 2009, a rocket launch was followed up just weeks later by an atomic explosion.
North Korea's nuclear ambitions should inspire the U.S. , China, South Korea and Japan to put aside their issues and focus on dealing with Pyongyang, Scott Snyder, a Korea specialist for the Council on Foreign Relations, wrote recently.
If there is a common threat that should galvanize regional co-operation "it most certainly should be the prospect of a 30-year-old leader of a terrorized population with his finger on a nuclear trigger," Snyder said.
Top News Headlines
- Neil Macdonald: Harper no Obama when it comes to dealing with scandals
- Court freezes assets in widening SNC-Lavalin probe
- Needed: New approaches to defuse 'suicide contagion' among teens
- 2nd suspect in Tim Bosma case in court today on murder charge
Latest World News Headlines
- 'Appalling murder' of U.K. soldier prompts emergency meeting
- WARNING: This story contains graphic content. The British government's emergency committee meets after two attackers butchered a man in a brutal daylight attack in London that officials say had signs of being motivated by radical Islam. more »
- Neil Macdonald: Harper no Obama when it comes to dealing with scandals
- 2 infants confirmed among dead of Oklahoma tornado
- Rescue workers raced to complete the search for survivors and the dead in the Oklahoma City suburb where a mammoth tornado destroyed countless homes, cleared lots down to bare red earth and claimed 24 lives, including those of 10 children. more »
- Man shot dead during FBI interview for Boston bombing probe
- The FBI says a man being questioned by authorities in the Boston bombing probe was fatally shot after he initiated a violent confrontation during an interview with officers in Orlando, Fla. more »
- U.S. Republicans aim to take hold of Keystone XL decision
- The American political brawl over the approval of TransCanada's proposed Keystone XL pipeline shifted into overdrive on Wednesday as Republicans in the House of Representatives made yet another attempt to take the decision out of U.S. President Barack Obama's hands. more »
- Director James Cameron on deep-sea exploration May. 22, 2013 3:36 PM Film director and deep sea explorer James Cameron on piloting submarines, finding new species and experiencing mechanical trouble 11 kilometres under water.
- 2nd suspect named in Tim Bosma slaying
- Killing near London barracks probed as 'terror' act
- Senators' Alfredsson on defeating Penguins: 'Probably not'
- Rob Ford fired as Don Bosco Eagles football coach
- Harper 'not consulted' about Duffy Senate expense repayment
- 1.3 million Montrealers face boil water advisory
- Xbox One: A closer look
- Plumber's car explodes near Vancouver apartments
- 'You will see him again in heaven,' Sharlene Bosma tells daughter