North Korea on Thursday fired two suspected ballistic missiles into the sea in its sixth round of weapons launches this month, South Korea’s military said.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the weapons, which were likely short-range, were launched from an eastern coastal area, but did not immediately say how far they flew.
North Korea has upped its testing activity recently in an apparent effort to pressure the Joe Biden administration in the US amid long-stalled nuclear talks.
The renewed pressure comes as the pandemic further shakes North Korea’s economy, which was already battered by crippling US-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons programme and decades of mismanagement by its own government.
North Korea issued a veiled threat last week to resume the testing of nuclear explosives and long-range missiles targeting the American homeland, which leader Kim Jong Un suspended in 2018 while initiating diplomacy with the United States.
Kim’s high-stakes summitry with former US president Donald Trump derailed in 2019 due to disagreements over sanctions relief and denuclearisation.
Some experts say North Korea could dramatically escalate weapons demonstrations after the Winter Olympics, which begin on February 4 in China, North Korea’s main ally and economic lifeline. They say Pyongyang’s leadership likely feels it could use a dramatic provocation to move the needle with the Biden administration, which has been preoccupied with bigger adversaries, including China and Russia.
The Biden administration has offered open-ended talks but showed no willingness to ease sanctions unless Kim takes real steps to abandon the nuclear weapons and missiles he sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.
North Korea has been ramping up its testing activity since last fall, demonstrating various missiles and delivery systems apparently designed to overwhelm missile defence systems in the region.
Experts say Kim is trying to apply more pressure on rivals Washington and Seoul to accept it as a nuclear power in hopes of winning relief from economic sanctions and convert the diplomacy with Washington into mutual arms-reduction negotiations.
Thursday’s launch came two days after South Korea’s military detected the North flight-testing two suspected cruise missile at an unspecified inland area.
North Korea opened 2022 with a pair of test-firings of a purported hypersonic missile, which Kim described as an asset that would remarkably bolster his nuclear ”war deterrent”.
The North also this month test-fired two different types of short-range ballistic missiles it has developed since 2019 that are designed to be manoeuvrable and fly at low altitudes, which experts say potentially improve their chances of evading and defeating missile defence systems.