What Western Reporters Saw During Their Visit to a North Korean Launch Pad

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North Korean officials tried to ease tensions over its upcoming rocket launch by opening its launch pad on Sunday to the international press. It didn't work. The goal was to demonstrate that the launch of a satellite, scheduled to liftoff as early as Thursday, is purely for scientific purposes and not, as many analysts believe, a ruse for testing its ballistic missile technology. But, as of Monday morning, the outward signs of tensions from its neighbors and even chief ally China have only increased. So much for the open house. 

This morning, South Korean officials charged that the upcoming launch is actually prequel to a nuclear test, The Washington Post reports. The officials cited a new report detailing satellite imagery of dirt that would be used to fill a tunnel prior to an underground nuclear test. “The effort is believed to be in its final stages,” said the report by Seoul's intelligence agency. “The soil around the tunnel’s entrance appeared to have been brought in from another region and has been growing in amount since March.” The report says the gathering of dirt indicates the North is "on its way to another grave provocation, which, if true, The Post says would match previous displays of brinkmanship by Pyongyang in 2006 and 2009 in which launches were followed by nuclear tests. 

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And you know the Hermit Kingdom is really rattling nerves when even its chief ally China is publicly expressing concern. On Sunday, the Associated Press reported that "Beijing is troubled by North Korea's plans to launch a rocket." The report was prompted by China's foreign minister Yang Jiechi saying "The Chinese side is troubled by the developments." While not explicitly condemning the North, Jiechi said China "strongly encourages everyone involved on all sides, at high and low levels, to remain calm and reasonable," Yang said. At the same time, Japan condemned the the launch and has mobilized its interceptor missile units. 

So what did the North actually do during this open house? Photographers from multiple Western news agencies, including CNN, the Associated Press and Reuters were let onto the launch pad. According to CNN's Adam Levine, the tour included "launch pad, the satellite itself, and the control center." The head of the launch site, Jang Myong Jin, dismissed allegations that this was a ballistic missile test. "Can't you see with your own eyes this is not a missile, this is why we invited you," Jang Myong Jin said. The network was even able to file a video report from the launch site:

Unfortunately for North Korea, if the Western world thinks your launching a rocket to secretly test ballistic missile technology, inviting over some reporters and showing them you're testing a rocket isn't going to dissuade them you're still secretly testing ballistic missile technology. 

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.