The government of North Korea launched a ballistic missile Thursday evening that flew over the Japanese island of Hokkaido before falling into the ocean. This is the second such North Korean missile flight in less than a month to fly over Japan.
Just two weeks ago the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), the North’s official name, conducted a test of a nuclear device the country claimed was a hydrogen bomb. That test led to the imposition of further United Nations Security Council sanctions on the DPRK for its continued testing of both missiles and nuclear devices.
The new round of sanctions was adopted on Monday and last night’s missile launch was viewed as a clear signal that the DPRK has no intention of giving up its testing. The missile flew about 2,300 miles before falling into the sea, a distance great enough to reach the U.S. air base on Guam.
Officials believe the missile was an intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), although some Japanese observers believe it may have been an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) like the one launched late in August.
According to a report from the BBC, South Korea launched two missiles of its own that landed in the ocean, a demonstration of its capability to strike back at the North.
The new sanctions imposed Monday include a ban on textile exports from North Korea and a reduction of 30% in imports of oil. The goal is to starve the DPRK of both fuel and hard currency to fund its missile and nuclear weapons developments.
An earlier Security Council resolution prohibited all exports of North Korean coal, iron, iron ore, lead, lead ore and seafood. The sanctions also included more restrictions on the country’s Foreign Trade bank and forbid North Korea from sending more workers abroad.
Economically, North Korea is one of the poorest countries in the world. Its population of about 25 million lives in extreme poverty, with annual estimated per capita income of $1,800 according to the CIA Factbook.
Because the DPRK’s economy is highly dependent on trade with China, China’s decision to support the new UN sanctions was seen as an important step in forcing North Korea to heel. But following last night’s launch, a spokeswoman for China’s foreign ministry said that the “directly involved parties” (interpreted to mean the United States, South Korea and Japan) must take responsibility for ending the North Korean testing program. About 75% of the country’s $4.15 billion in exports are sent to China and 76% of its $4.8 billion in imports come from China.
According to the CIA Factbook, North Korea is a source country for men, women and children who are subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. Workers are not free to change jobs and “tens of thousands” of North Koreans, including children, are held in prison camps and subjected to forced, heavy labor.
In addition, the country sends tens of thousands of its citizens to both Russia and China, where they work under near-slavery conditions and have most of their earnings confiscated by the DPRK, according to a report in The New York Times.
Nearly two-thirds (63%) of the DPRK’s total labor force of 14 million works in the industry and services sectors. The remaining 37% work in agriculture. The CIA Factbook notes that unemployment ran to 25.6% in 2013, about equal to the unemployment rate in Greece.