Through the Looking Glass

Chinese Open Source Assessments of North Korea's Ballistic Missile Capabilities

Published in: Korea Economic Institute of America (2020)

Posted on RAND.org on May 14, 2021

by Nathan Beauchamp-Mustafaga, Scott W. Harold

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North Korea's ballistic missile program has long been a concern for the United States, South Korea, and Japan. Foreign researchers have increasingly leveraged advanced open source intelligence technology and cooperated across countries to track the North's developments over the last 25 years. But one country has been left out—China. Are there open source Chinese analyses of DPRK ballistic missiles, do they align with U.S. assessments, and is there anything for other researchers to gain from reading these analyses? This report examines Chinese assessments of North Korean ballistic missile capabilities between 1998 and 2017. We find that Chinese analysts have paid growing attention to the North's missile capabilities but are still not as attentive as Western observers, from whom they draw most of their information and analytic insights. Chinese analyses broadly mirror Western experts' conclusions about the state of North Korea's missile capabilities, most notably that North Korea has a functional, if not fully perfected, intercontinental-range ballistic missile (ICBM) that can reach the United States with a nuclear weapon. However, there is little original Chinese analysis that would enhance foreign experts' preexisting understanding of DPRK missiles.

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