North Korea fires at least one ballistic missile amid flurry of military activity

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North Korea launched at least one ballistic missile off its east coast on Tuesday, knocking Japan’s new prime minister out of the campaign and overshadowing the opening of a major arms fair in Seoul.

The launch, reported by officials in South Korea and Japan, came after envoys from the United States and South Korea met in Washington to discuss the nuclear showdown with North Korea on Monday. It was reported that the spy chiefs of the United States, South Korea and Japan will also meet in Seoul on Tuesday.

North Korea’s launch would be the latest weapons test conducted by the country, which has forged ahead with military development in the face of international sanctions imposed by its nuclear weapons and missile programs.

A ballistic missile was launched around 10:17 a.m. local time from near Sinpo, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, where North Korea has submarines and equipment to test submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).

South Korean newspaper Joongang Ilbo quoted an anonymous military source as saying the government was “assuming it was an SLBM test,” without elaborating.

North Korea has also launched other types of missiles from that area.

“Our military is closely monitoring the situation and maintaining a readiness posture in close cooperation with the United States, to prepare for possible additional launches,” JCS said in a statement.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that two ballistic missiles had been detected and that it was “regrettable” that North Korea had conducted a series of missile tests in recent weeks.

There was no immediate explanation from South Korea’s JCS for the conflicting number of missiles detected.

Kishida canceled scheduled campaign appearances in northern Japan, and the deputy chief cabinet secretary told reporters that Kishida planned to return to Tokyo to deal with the missile situation.

South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which handles relations with North Korea, said that daily routine liaison calls with North Korea were carried out normally on Tuesday and did not comment on the missile launch.

Burst of activity

The series of recent launches, as well as the unveiling of an unusual military show in Pyongyang last week, suggest that North Korea may be resuming military and international affairs after nearly two years of turning inward amid the COVID pandemic. -19, analysts said.

“North Korea’s renewed ballistic missile tests suggest that the worst internal difficulties between the summer of 2020-2021 may be over,” said Chad O’Carroll, executive director of Korea Risk Group, on Twitter.

“Pyongyang tends to focus on one big strategic issue at a time, so renewed evidence could suggest that military policy, then foreign policy, is now a priority,” he added.

Despite struggling economically under a self-imposed pandemic lockdown, North Korea has continued its breakneck missile development and expanded nuclear activity, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“Now that the Kim regime is gradually loosening border restrictions for limited external engagement, it is simultaneously testing missiles to advance its military modernization,” he said. “Pyongyang is rhetorically putting the burden of strained ties in Seoul and the responsibility of restarting diplomacy in Washington.”

The launch came as the intelligence chiefs of the United States, South Korea and Japan were supposed to meet in Seoul to discuss the confrontation with North Korea, amid other problems, the Yonhap news agency reported, citing a government source.

The United States’ special representative for North Korea, Sung Kim, said he will visit Seoul for talks this week.

“The United States continues to reach out to Pyongyang to restart dialogue,” Kim said after meeting with his South Korean counterpart in Washington on Monday. “We do not harbor any hostile intent towards (North Korea), and we are open to meeting with them without preconditions.”

Missile race

Missiles recently tested by North Korea appear to be aimed at matching or exceeding South Korea’s quietly expanding arsenal, analysts said.

Last month, South Korea successfully tested an SLBM, becoming the first non-nuclear weapon country to develop such a system. North Korea fired a missile launched from a train on the same day.

This month, the two Koreas held dueling defense displays to showcase their latest weapons amid a spiraling arms race.

When news broke of Tuesday’s missile launch, representatives from hundreds of international companies and foreign armies gathered in Seoul for the opening ceremonies of the International Defense and Aerospace Exhibition (ADEX).

It is expected to be South Korea’s largest defense expo, organizers said, with exhibits of next-generation fighter jets, attack helicopters, drones and other advanced weapons, as well as rocket rockets and civil aerospace designs.

South Korea is also preparing to test the fire of its first homegrown space launch vehicle on Thursday.

Although analysts say the South Korean rocket has few potential applications as a weapon, such tests are unlikely to be well received in North Korea, which has complained of double standards in which its own space program is criticized abroad as a front for the development of military missiles.

(REUTERS)