The Republic of Korea (ROK) will test the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) current charm offensive on October 1st when the ROK holds a military parade in Seoul to mark the 65th anniversary of the founding of their armed forces. Around 11,000 ROK troops and various military vehicles will roll through Seoul during the event (past versions looking vaguely like a DPRK military parade), but the biggest draw of the performance will be a public showing of the domestically-designed Hyunmoo-3c (Hyeonmu, 현무) cruise missile.
The Hyunmoo-3c carries a 500 kg conventional warhead and possesses a range of 1,500 km. It is designed specifically for countering DPRK threats beyond the front lines of the DMZ, including DPRK ballistic missile launching capabilities and nuclear sites (though Beijing also falls within the 1,500 km rage). Its public showing, and the celebration itself, with be a litmus test of relations between the North and South.
Recent weeks have seen a thawing of ROK and DPRK relations, as the two sides reestablished their military hotline, agreed to reopen the cooperatively-run Kaesong Industrial Complex, and potential renewed family reunions at the DPRK’s Diamond Mountain resort. The DPRK has sought reverse diplomatic damage done during a complete shutdown of Kaesong and a severing of relations with the ROK earlier in the year. The DPRK’s Kaesong gambit won nothing for their nation diplomatically and its closing proved too economically damaging to persist.
However, the DPRK excels at bipolar diplomacy, cozy-ing up to enemies one month and threatening nuclear annihilation the next. The nation’s most recent tantrums fell on deaf ears, but their diplomacy continually changes tack between charm and diatribes. The October 1st ROK Armed Forces Parade and public Hyunmoo-3 showing will gauge how much leeway the DPRK is affording the ROK. Should little rhetoric emerge from the DPRK during the event, it will be an indicator of the DPRK’s Kaesong needs and their current desire to maintain cooperation.
From the ROK perspective, the Hyunmoo-3 parading through Seoul demonstrates President Geun-Hye’s strategy of engagement, cooperation, and trust-building, backed by strength of arms. The ROK has publicly indicated a toned-down event in attempts to preserve current DPRK/ROK relations, while at the same time deciding to parade the Hyunmoo-3c in potential response to images from late August showing the restart of the DPRK’s Yongbyon reactor. This is the ROK’s and President Park’s own version of bipolar diplomacy, something akin to speaking softy and carrying a big stick.
The ROK has occasionally allowed DPRK transgressions to slide in the overall scheme of progress between the two nations, and seems to be more apt to do so from it’s current position of strength. The DPRK rarely wastes such an opportunity to denounce its Southern kin, but warming relations sees the DPRK increasingly silent on “transgressions” that used to inspire vehement soapbox tirades. A silent DPRK during ROK military festivities this October would indicate that their current charm offensive will likely continue into the near future, and will be a key indicator of just how much the DPRK wants a cooperative South Korea.
Craig was born & raised in the United States, having recently returned there after over five years in Asia. He is currently pursuing further education in the realms of East Asian Studies and Politics. Craig is an avid fan of the political, economic, and military machinations occurring throughout the Asian continent and how those turning gears affect the rest of the world. He's currently covering both North and South Korea for Asia Security Watch, enjoying shedding light on to this far-too-often ignored slice of Asia.
Craig Scanlan has 82 post(s) on Asia Security Watch