Pyongyang continues launch blitz with two suspected missiles

North has stepped up weapons testing in what appears to be a resumption of its provocation and engagement strategy.

Kim Jong Un speaks at a conference in front of a red party flag
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has presided over a flurry of missile tests this month [File: KCNA via Reuters]

North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, South Korea and Japan said on Thursday, as nuclear-armed Pyongyang steps up weapons testing to defend itself against what it claims is a “hostile” United States.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) announced the launch – the sixth this month – in a text message sent to reporters, Yonhap news agency reported.

The Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said it detected the launch from in and around Hamhung, a city on the east coast, at about 8am (23:00 GMT), Yonhap news agency reported. The missile flew for about 190km (118 miles) at an altitude of about 20km (12 miles).

“Our military is keeping close tabs on related North Korean movements and maintaining a readiness posture,” the JCS said in a message sent to reporters.

In Japan, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the government was still gathering details on the launches, but that any ballistic missile tests were “deeply regrettable” and in breach of United Nations Security Council resolutions, according to Reuters news agency.

Pyongyang has carried out an unprecedented number of missile tests this month, including cruise missiles, banned ballistic missiles and “hypersonic” weaponry, It has also hinted at resuming “all temporally-suspended activities“, thought to be a reference to a self-imposed moratorium on testing nuclear and long-range missiles. Such activity is banned under UN resolutions.

The United States and South Korea have been urging North Korea to return to denuclearisation talks, which have been stalled since the collapse of the summit between Kim Jong Un and former US President Donald Trump in Hanoi in 2019, over Pyongyang’s demands for sanctions relief.

Under Joe Biden, who took over as president last year, the US has recalibrated North Korean policy and stressed that it is willing to hold discussions anywhere and at anytime.

Despite Pyongyang’s provocative behaviour, Biden’s administration has taken a more restrained response than in 2017 when North Korea carried out its last nuclear test and also launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). At that time, Trump and Kim traded insults and Trump promised to respond with “fire and fury”.

“For better and for worse, Biden is showing no fire and no fury,” said Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

This month’s launches have led to a recalibration of some sanctions on individuals linked to the North’s nuclear programme, but while there has been a meeting of the UN Security Council, Russia and China have blocked attempts at further action.

“That Pyongyang has violated resolutions the Security Council unanimously approved is not just a matter of American opinion or South Korean intelligence,” Easley said. “North Korean state media has repeatedly provided details and photos of unlawful missile launches and issued threats of future nuclear and long-range missile tests. Beijing and Moscow are allowing Pyongyang to flout international law, essentially welcoming further provocations.

Source: Al Jazeera