A U.S. research institute announced Thursday that North Korea's main rocket launch site is undergoing significant new construction, according to satellite imagery. The upgrades are a sign of leader Kim Jong Un’s determination to pursue a space program despite severe international sanctions.
Under UN Security Council resolutions North Korea is barred from launching rockets because if it can launch a rocket it can launch a weaponized ballistic missile.
Kim, who's grip on power is under threat from many parties within the hermit kingdom, declared this month that its rocket program “can never be abandoned.”
The upgrades to the Sohae launch site on its west coast have been ongoing since 2013, after its its first rocket was launched into space in December 2012.
Since an upgrade completed last year to accommodate larger rockets, satellite imagery shows North Korea has been working on a support building and what looks to be a movable platform to allow a fully assembled rocket to be shifted on tracks to the launch pad.
The U.S.-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies, author of the new report, says that the facilities closely resemble those used in China, the North's neighbor, though there is no publicly available evidence to suggest Chinese involvement.
It remains highly probable that China is assisting the North, as the communist state is notoriously open to doing business with human rights violators and other shunned members of the international community for the sake of a few dollars.
“The Sohae facility upgrade program represents a significant investment of financial, material and personnel resources and is another indicator, along with its public statements, that North Korea is determined to pursue its space program,” read the research report.
In South Korea on Wednesday, nuclear envoys from South Korea, the United States and Japan agreed to increase pressure on North Korea in response to increasing belligerence from the despotic country.
The hermit kingdom's unpredictable leader, Kim, has championed the space program. In May, Kim inspected a new satellite control and command center and was quoted as saying the North would launch satellites into space.
The North's space program is notoriously poor, with a 2012 launch lifting a satellite into space that soon tumbled out of control in orbit.
It is believed that North Korea will mark the 70th anniversary of the ruling Korean Workers Party with a rocket launch.
While Kim and his cronies play with rockets, his people starve amid tough sanctions and rampant graft and corruption by top officials. Kim, along with the top members in the government and military routinely squander what little foreign currency reserves the country has on luxury good and food items including high end alcohol and caviar.