Mystery object near Kim at missile launch

When North Korean leader Kim Jong-un guided the launch of his country’s newest and most powerful ballistic missile this week, a shiny gadget lay on his table: a foldable smartphone.

Photos released by the official Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Thursday showed what looked like a silver foldable handset in black leather casing, strikingly similar to Samsung’s Galaxy Z Flip devices or China’s Huawei Pocket S phones.

The photo from Wednesday’s launch of the solid-fuel Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) instantly unleashed speculation about where the phone came from.

“If the object in the photo is a foldable phone, it is highly likely that it was secretly smuggled to North Korea via China,” South Korea’s Joongang Ilbo newspaper reported.

North Korea is banned under UN sanctions from importing or exporting electronic devices.

Kim’s love for gadgets has been an object of outside curiosity in the past. He has been pictured using what appeared to be Apple products, including iPads and Macbooks.

Only around 19 per cent of the North Korean population are estimated to have access to mobile phones, according to the US Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) World Factbook.

The ICBM missile, which North Korea has fired only once before, in April, flew 1,001 kilometres at a maximum altitude of 6,648 km before splashing into the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, the official Korean Central News Agency reported.

The launch was a “grand explosion” that shook “the whole planet”, KCNA said. State media footage showed the missile blasting off into the sky.

Kim vowed that “a series of stronger military offensive” would be launched until the United States and South Korea change their policies towards North Korea, the agency added.

Citing the “unstable situation” on the Korean peninsula, Kim also called for “more intense efforts” to boost North Korea’s nuclear arsenal.

The confirmation of the launch — which the South Korean military had reported on Wednesday — came with relations between the two Koreas at one of their lowest points ever.

Diplomacy is stalled and Kim has called for ramping up weapons development, including tactical nukes.

In response, Seoul and Washington have boosted security cooperation, vowing that Pyongyang would face a nuclear response and the “end” of its current government were it to ever use its nuclear weapons against the allies.

Seoul described Wednesday’s launch as “a grave provocation that damages the peace and security of the Korean peninsula”. The United Nations, the United States and its allies also strongly condemned it.

“This launch is a brazen violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilising the security situation in the region,” US National Security Council spokesperson Adam Hodge said in a statement.

Pyongyang in February tested the Hwasong-15, which flew a similar 989 km.

Wednesday’s launch came after North Korea on Monday accused a US spy plane of violating its airspace and condemned Washington’s plans to deploy a nuclear missile submarine near the Korean peninsula.

Pyongyang claimed the US had “intensified espionage activities beyond the wartime level”, citing “provocative” spy plane flights over eight straight days this month.

“There is no guarantee that such shocking accident as downing of the US Air Force strategic reconnaissance plane will not happen in the East Sea of Korea,” a North Korean defence spokesperson said.


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