According to Reuters, the Washington Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) said in a report on Monday that it had identified a military base close to North Korea’s border with China that was likely intended for the stationing of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), based on satellite images of Jan. 21.

When asked about the CSIS study, Lieutenant Colonel Marty Meiners, a US Department of Defense spokesman, declined to comment on “matters of intelligence or commercial imagery analysis.”

He said: “However, we have been very clear on the threat posed by (North Korea’s) missile programs, and our commitment to the defense of (South Korea), Japan, and the U.S. homeland, and our commitment to uphold regional peace and stability.” 

The CSIS analysis comes following a flurry of recent North Korean missile launches, raising worries that the regime may begin ICBM tests. North Korea has noted that it could resume nuclear testing that has been halted since 2017 since the U.S. has shown no signs of abandoning its “hostile policies.”

As the military base mentioned in the report is at Hoejung-ni, in North Korea’s Chagang province about 25 km (16 miles) from the border with China and 280 km (175 miles) northeast of Pyongyang, analysts warn that stationing ICBMs so close to China would make any pre-emptive attack against it impossible due to the risk of hitting China’s territory.

The report added that “Should operational ICBMs not become available in the near term, it is likely that intermediate range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) will be deployed,” noting that North Korea tested a Hwasong-12 IRBM from Chagang province last month.

It said that Hoejung-ni was one of about 20 North Korean ballistic missile facilities that had never been announced and that although its construction began 20 years ago, it was one of the most recent to be completed.

According to an excerpt of a confidential United Nations report acquired by Reuters on Saturday, North Korea continued to expand its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in the previous year, and cyberattacks were a major cash source for Pyongyang in the face of international sanctions.

As of January, CSIS reported there were no indicators of an ICBM unit at the facility and no protective anti-aircraft positions within 10 kilometers (6 miles), while the nearest “readily identifiable” surface-to-air missile installation was 50 kilometers (30 miles) away.

According to CSIS, the images reveal two hardened drive-through missile checkout facilities utilized for missile arming, fuelling, systems checkout, and maintenance activities.

Each facility is a massive concrete-reinforced shelter dug into the side of the adjacent mountain, spanning about 35 meters (yards) in length and large enough to house all known North Korean mobile missile launchers.

The report said: “The Hoejung-ni missile operating base will, according to informed sources, likely house a regiment-sized unit equipped with ICBMs.” 

According to the think tank, the images show that Hoejung-ni is active and well-maintained by North Korean standards, with ongoing minor infrastructure development.

Regarding why North Korea deliberately deployed a military base so close to the Chinese border 20 years ago, Su Ziyun, director of the Taiwan Institute for National Defense and Security Research, told Chinese-language media Xiwang Zhisheng that this was a move by North Korea to increase its intimidation and resistance.

Since North Korea’s scientific and technological capability is relatively weak, it cannot develop a Ballistic Missile submarine (SSBN) effectively, so it can only rely on the ground-launched ICBM as its nuclear strike capability.

Su Ziyun said, in this case, North Korea moved one of its sites to a place closer to China’s border, which is equivalent to making use of the enemy’s concern of not daring to launch a strike on his nuclear base near China’s border so that North Korea can maintain its counter-attack capability.

The director informed that Beijing also knew that North Korea’s development of nuclear weapons would become a local threat, but relatively speaking, it could gain more benefits. Because 20 years ago, there were the so-called six-party talks in which the United States, Japan, South Korea, North Korea, Russia, and the Chinese Communist Party discussed the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. So, by maintaining such a military base, North Korea is helping China have more bargaining chips.

Finally, he noted that China is now arguably the single most dangerous place globally because it is surrounded by nuclear-armed countries, including Russia, North Korea, Pakistan, and India.

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