Behind North Korea’s fizzled missile: Has China lost control of Kim?

Gordon G Chang writes: The quick end to Sunday’s test undercuts the fearsome image of his ballistic missiles. “The timing was a deep embarrassment for the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un,” the New York Times wrote Saturday, referring to the explosion soon after the launch.

That is not, in fact, good news. What does a deeply embarrassed dictator do next? He tests another missile or detonates a nuclear device to end his country’s celebrations on what he considers a high note. Kim has plenty of missiles, and his technicians look like they have buried, in preparation for a detonation, a nuke at the Punggye-ri site in northeastern North Korea.

Or maybe he does something else provocative.

Kim may have to do something we consider horrible if he wants to remain in power. His rule looks increasingly unstable—since the end of January there have been various incidents suggesting trouble at the top of the regime—so a humiliating episode like the almost-immediate failure of the missile Sunday could tip him over the edge.

There’s nothing more dangerous than a weak dictator who commands the world’s most destructive weapons. Friday, David Albright of the Institute for Science and International Security issued a report stating that Kim may have had up to 30 nukes at the end of 2016 and the industrial infrastructure to build more at a fast clip.

And Kim also looks defiant. Washington has been issuing warnings to the North Korean leader in the days leading up to the “Day of the Sun” celebration Saturday, and so has Beijing. The missile test suggests, among other things, that Kim feels he can ignore the stern Chinese lectures delivered through various means, including the Global Times. The nationalist tabloid, controlled by People’s Daily, this week threatened restricting the flow of oil to Kim, among other measures.

If Kim in fact thinks he can safely defy Beijing, Kim may at this point be, as a practical matter, uncontrollable. [Continue reading…]

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