North Korea conducts suspected missile test ahead of South Korean elections

The South Korean military said North Korea fired a suspected ballistic missile on Saturday, continuing this year to break records in weapons tests by launching it just days before the South Korean presidential election.

From hypersonic ballistic missiles to medium-range ballistic missiles, Pyongyang tested a series of weapons in January and last week launched what it claimed was a “reconnaissance satellite” – although Seoul described it as another ballistic missile.

Despite harsh international sanctions on its nuclear weapons, Pyongyang has ignored US offers to hold talks since high-level negotiations between leader Kim Jong Un and then-US President Donald Trump broke down in 2019.

Instead of diplomacy, Pyongyang has doubled down on Kim’s efforts to modernize its military, warning in January that it might drop a moratorium on tests of long-range missiles and nuclear weapons.

The South Korean military announced on Saturday that it had discovered a “supposed ballistic missile that was fired into the East Sea from the Sunan region around 08:48 am.”

Japan’s Defense Minister, Nobuo Kiichi, confirmed the launch, saying that the missile had flown “at a maximum altitude of about 550 kilometers and at a distance of approximately 300 kilometers”.

He said the “extremely high frequency” of weapons tests by Pyongyang this year were “a threat to the region… and totally unacceptable”.

Analysts said North Korea’s clamor comes just four days before South Korea votes to elect a new president, and the tests appear to be a way for Pyongyang to express its “discontent” with outgoing President Moon Jae-in.

“Kim seems to feel that Moon has not done much after the collapse of the Hanoi summit,” North Korean researcher Ahn Chan-il said, referring to the recent meeting between Kim and Trump.

He added that Pyongyang had clearly decided “to prioritize its military agenda regardless of what South Korea thinks.”

Analysts say tensions with North Korea are no longer a major issue in South Korean elections, with issues of domestic income inequality and youth unemployment topping voter lists.

But if Moon’s ruling Democratic Party loses on Wednesday, it could herald a shift in North Korea’s policy toward North Korea.

One of the main candidates, former Prosecutor General Yoon Suk-yeol of the opposition People’s Power Party, threatened a preemptive strike on nuclear-armed South Korea if necessary.

Ukrainian analysts did not widely expect that Pyongyang would seek to capitalize on US distraction over Russia’s invasion of Ukraine with more tests.

Ukraine, which emerged from the Cold War with a large stockpile of Soviet-era nuclear weapons, abandoned its arsenal in the 1990s.

“With these tests, North Korea appears to be saying that North Korea is different from Ukraine, and reminding the world that it has its own nuclear weapons system,” said Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

“It is another demand for Washington to cancel the so-called ‘hostile’ policies against Pyongyang,” he told AFP.

North Korea last month accused the United States of being the “root cause of the Ukraine crisis,” saying in a statement on its foreign ministry website that Washington “interfered” in other countries’ internal affairs when it suited it but condemned the “legitimate right”. defensive measures.

Domestically, North Korea is preparing to celebrate the 110th anniversary of the birth of late founder Kim Il Sung in April, which experts say Pyongyang could use as an opportunity to conduct a major weapons test.

Recent satellite images analyzed by the specialist website 38 North indicate that the country may be preparing for a military parade to display its weapons to mark the key anniversary.

“Pyongyang is likely to focus on testing its reconnaissance satellites and ICBMs until April,” said Cheong Seong-chang of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute.


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