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The side of the hermit nation the world rarely sees

It’s also one of North Korea’s main missile launch sites.

The country’s missile program is advancing fast, defying efforts by the US and its allies to curb them. North Korea now has the dreaded intercontinental ballistic missile — possibly nuclear capable — putting the US mainland within striking range for the first time ever.

The nation’s founder, Kim Il Sung, oversaw the first Scud missile launch in the 1980s. His son and successor, Kim Jong Il, launched more than a dozen missiles during his 17-year rule.

But Kim Jong Un has taken this to a new level since taking power in 2011, launching satellites, ordering nuclear tests and firing missiles with frightening regularity.

This has taken North Korea dangerously close to the brink of war with the US, whose reactions to the tests have become increasingly belligerent under the Donald Trump administration.

Yet, tests continue. Why? Propaganda. Each launch projects North Korean power, to their own people and the rest of the world. It’s like an insurance policy for Kim Jong Un and the ruling Workers Party of Korea, protecting them from the US and its allies. Keeping the regime in power.

But it’s sometimes easy to forget all this in Wonsan, a place where residents can spend quiet afternoons reeling in anchovies. I ask Kim Un Taek, a retiree, what it’s like to live here and he says it’s really good because of the clean air from the sea.

Kim Un Taek, a retiree living in Wonsan, talks with pride about the missiles going up from his home city.

I tell him his city is known around the world because of its missile launches and ask him if he’s ever heard them.

“Yeah, I’ve seen them. So satisfying. Wham! We see it going up.”

I ask him what message those missiles in the sky send him.

“Pride,” he says.

Kim, like many others, doesn’t understand why the US feels so threatened by the missile program.

“It’s a work my country is doing for our own defense. Why is the US imposing sanctions?” he asks, puzzled.

Besides missiles, one of Wonsan’s proudest achievements is its new hydroelectric plant, built in large part by the city’s residents themselves. It makes Wonsan one of the few places in the country without regular blackouts.

We’re reminded of this on the way back to Pyongyang, when we stop for dinner at a country teahouse. Within minutes of starting our meal, the lights go out. Nobody seems fazed and we dine on wild pheasant by flashlight.

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