North Korea is building artificial islands in the Yellow Sea that appear to be topped with military installations, the Los Angeles Times reported Wednesday.
Satellite images show, for at least five years, North Korea has been working on the man-made islands near the western city of Sohae – a known testing site for ICBM missile technology – and about 130 miles from Pyongyang, the Times reported.
The unsettling development suggests North Korea has taken a cue from China, which has come under fire for building and militarizing several man-made islands in the South China Sea, the Times noted.
North Korea’s islands are nowhere near as numerous, nor as elaborate, as China’s, the Times reported.
“We can’t make definitive statements as to what these islands are being used for,” Ryan Barenklau, chief executive of Strategic Sentinel, told the Times.
Barenklau, whose Washington-based intelligence firm has analyzed the images and written about them in The Diplomat, told the Times, however, military use is likely.
“And they have observation areas, for someone like [the country’s leader] Kim Jong Un to observe a missile launch,” he told the Times. “Every time we see VIP buildings, that tells us there’s most likely a military application, because Kim Jong Un likes to view the operations of whatever they’re building.
“At first we were really concerned about what the initial purpose of those islands are — whether they’re for military or agriculture purposes — but when we saw the observation decks, we thought, those are military.”
Steve Sin, a researcher on unconventional weapons and technology at the University of Maryland, told the Times if the islands are used for missile launches, they’re probably not intended for long-range ballistic missiles.
“North Korea still has to stack and fuel those at the launch site itself,” he said.
He said it is more likely that they’re intended for shorter-range missiles such as KN-02 and Scuds, which are more portable, the Times reported.
“All countries with coastlines have been reclaiming coastal land for various purposes for hundreds if not thousands of years, and North Korea is no exception,” he said, adding, however, if the artificial islands are meant for missile launches, they could show Pyongyang’s “unwavering commitment to the continued development of its missile and space technology,” and by extension, its nuclear program.
“So, that would be the relevance of these developments,if, and only if, the original assessment is correct,” he told the Times.