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June 25, 2017

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Kim Jong Un truly is the god of missile gamblers

Almost a year has passed since North Korea's new leader Kim Jong Un took power following his father's death on Dec 17, 2011. The Swiss-educated young man was widely expected to take his impoverished nation in a new direction and show a leadership different from his father's iron-fisted rule.

Since his enthronement, the twentysomething leader has repeatedly pledged to focus on building the economy and raising the standard of living, saying that it is an objective laid out for him by his father.

As recently as August, Kim told a visiting Chinese delegation that one key goal of the Workers' Party was to develop the economy and improve livelihoods so that the North Korean people can lead happy and civilized lives.

Yet he has been all talk and no action. He has not made any serious attempt to lead the isolated and destitute nation in a new direction. Like his father, he has been caught up in the illusion that nuclear weapons and long-range missiles can make North Korea a strong and prosperous state.

Now, as the first anniversary of his father's death nears, the son is preparing to commemorate him in his unique way — a rocket launch that is widely seen as a cover for a ballistic missile test.

The North's state news agency, KCNA, said on Saturday that an Unha-3 rocket will lift off between Dec. 10 and 22 to put an Earth-observing satellite into space.

The planned launch deviates from Pyongyang's past practice in two respects. First, it is the second launch attempt this year, following the failed one in April. Never before has Pyongyang made two launch attempts in a year.

The short interval between the two launches calls into question whether the North has identified the causes of the April debacle and fixed whatever went wrong. The North's space agency asserted that it had improved the reliability and precision of the satellite and carrier rocket since the April disaster.

Yet chances are high that the December launch could follow the same fate as the April one, which crashed into the sea after flying a mere 120 kilometers.

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