EU smacks South Korea with major blow as N Korea ramps up missile testing

North Korea insists it has the right to test missiles

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Its expected veto is the first since the bloc’s competition authorities scuppered a potential deal between India’s Tata Steel and Germany’s Thyssenkrupp over two years ago. News of the EU’s latest decision comes amid a cost of energy crisis with prices soaring across Europe.

The Financial Times also reports that freight costs for liquefied natural gas (LNG) in Asia have reached record levels in excess of £220,000 ($300,000) per day due to surging global demand.

Daewoo Shipbuilding & Marine Engineering and Hyundai Heavy Industries are market leaders in building the ships which carry super-chilled LNG.

One EU official told the FT that blocking the merger would protect consumers in Europe from paying higher prices for LNG.

Vessels carrying it to Asia have been rerouted to Europe where people are willing to pay more for the fuel.

The EU is the world’s third largest importer of LNG, according to an FT report. The European Commission says the South Korean shipbuilders are significant suppliers to companies in the EU, representing about 30 percent of global demands for cargo vessels.

Europe is also home to rival shipping giants Maersk and MSC.

In 2019, Hyundai signed an agreement to acquire a 55.7 percent stake in Daewoo from the state-run Korea Development Bank.

According to the FT, the merger has been approved by regulators in Singapore, China and Kazakhstan, but it would also need approval from the EU, Japan and South Korea for the deal to be completed. The potential merger would have an impact on a number of global markets for cargo shipbuilding.

To address concerns about competition, Hyundai Heavy had proposed to not raise LNG vessel prices for the time being and transfer some technology to smaller domestic shipyards, industry officials have said.

However, they told the FT that the offer fell short, adding that Hyundai Heavy had not made a formal proposal to address the EU’s request for other remedies.
Hyundai Heavy said the EU should approve the merger unconditionally.

The company told the FT: “It is impossible to evaluate market dominance by just market share alone in the shipbuilding market and the market structure makes it difficult for a certain company to monopolise it.”

The Commission is expected to issue its decision over Hyundai’s acquisition by January 20.

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News that EU competition officials have said the proposed union between Daewoo and Hyundai would be stopped as anti-competitive comes as North Korea appeared to test fire a second ballistic missile.

South Korea’s military said the North’s test on Tuesday may be more capable than the “hypersonic missile” Pyongyang launched less than a week earlier.

Leader Kim Jong Un vowed over New Year’s to bolster his country’s military with cutting-edge technology at a time when talks with South Korea and the US have stalled.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement that initial estimates found Tuesday’s missile travelled more than 435 miles (700km) to a maximum altitude of 37 miles (60km) at a top speed up to 10 times the speed of sound (12,348 kmh/7,673 mph).

The JCS said: “We assess that this is more advanced than the missile North Korea fired on January 5, though South Korean and US intelligence authorities are conducting detailed analysis.”

The suspected ballistic missile launch was detected coming from North Korea’s Jagang Province, the same location as last week’s test.

North Korea has joined a global race in developing hypersonic missiles, which are usually defined as weapons that reach speeds of at least five times the speed of sound and can manoeuvre at relatively low trajectories, making them harder to detect and intercept.

Last week, South Korean military officials cast doubt on the capabilities of the hypersonic missile North Korea claimed to have test fired on Wednesday, saying it appeared to represent limited progress over Pyongyang’s existing ballistic missiles.

Kim Dong-yup, a former South Korea Navy officer who now teaches at Seoul’s Kyungnam University, told Reuters: “Today’s test might be intended to send a message to the South after authorities here said the earlier test was a failure and did not involve a hypersonic missile.”

South Korea’s National Security Council held an emergency meeting and President Moon Jae-in expressed concern over the launches, which came ahead of the country’s presidential election on March 9.

The nuclear envoys of South Korea and the United States held a phone call to share their assessment on the missile test, agreeing to continue efforts to restart the peace process with the North.

Indopacific Command (INDOPACOM) of the US military, stated that while it assessed that the launch did not pose an immediate threat to the United States or its allies, it highlighted the destabilising impact of North Korea’s illicit weapons program.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida noted the United Nations had just finished holding discussions on how to respond to last week’s launch.

He told reporters: “That North Korea continues to launch missiles is extremely regrettable.”

UN Security Council resolutions ban all ballistic missile and nuclear tests by North Korea. Sanctions have been imposed over the programmes.

The second apparent launch came a day after the United States mission to the United Nations – joined by the UK, France, Ireland, Japan and Albania – issued a joint statement condemning last week’s test.

US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in the statement on Monday: “These actions increase the risk of miscalculation and escalation and pose a significant threat to regional stability.”

She added that such tests not only improve the North’s capabilities, but expand what it can offer illicit arms clients and dealers around the world.

However, China and Russia are pushing the UN Security Council to ease sanctions on North Korea by removing a ban on Pyongyang’s exports of statues, seafood and textiles on top of lifting a refined petroleum imports cap.

Ms Thomas-Greenfield repeated calls for countries around the world to enforce sanctions and for North Korea to abandon its missiles and nuclear weapons. North Korea has said it is open to talk, but only if the US and others drop “hostile policies” such as sanctions and military drills.

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