North Korea resumes missile testing with first launch in a month

SEOUL, Feb 27 (Reuters) – North Korea fired what could be a ballistic missile on Sunday, South Korean and Japanese military officials said, in what would be the first test since the nuclear weapon carried out a record number of launches in January. .

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that North Korea fired a suspected ballistic missile into the sea off its east coast from a location near Sunan, where South Korea’s international airport is located. Pyongyang.

The airport has been the site of missile tests, including a pair of short-range ballistic missiles fired on January 16.

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Sunday’s missile flew at a maximum altitude of about 620 km (390 miles), over a range of 300 km (190 miles), JCS said.

Analysts said the flight data did not closely match previous tests and suggested it could be a medium-range ballistic missile fired on a “lofted” trajectory.

“There have been frequent launches since the beginning of the year, and North Korea continues to rapidly develop ballistic missile technology,” Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said in a televised statement. North Korea threatened the security of Japan, the region and the international community, he said.

The United States condemned the latest launch and called on North Korea to cease its acts of destabilization, but said the test did not pose an immediate threat, the US military’s Indo-Pacific Command said.

North Korea’s last test came on January 30, when it fired a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile.

The largest weapon tested since 2017, the Hwasong-12 is said to have flown at an altitude of around 2,000 km (1,200 miles) and a range of 800 km (500 miles). This capped a record month of mostly short-range missile launches in January.


Sunday’s launch came less than two weeks before South Korea’s March 9 presidential election, amid fears by some in Seoul and Tokyo that Pyongyang could continue missile development as international attention grows. focuses on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

“This launch comes as the international community reacts to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and if North Korea takes advantage of this situation, that is something we cannot tolerate,” Kishi said.

South Korea’s National Security Council called an emergency meeting to discuss the launch, which it called “regrettable”, according to a statement from the presidential Blue House.

“Launching a ballistic missile at a time when the world is struggling to resolve the war in Ukraine is never desirable for peace and stability in the world, in the region and on the Korean Peninsula,” the statement said.

The main conservative candidate, Yoon Suk-Yeol, warned last week that North Korea could see the Ukraine crisis as “an opportunity to launch its own provocation”.

Candidates and analysts noted, however, that even before the invasion, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un was overseeing an increase in missile testing as talks with the United States and its allies remained stalled.

“Putin’s war is shaping almost all geopolitics right now, and should be factored into Kim’s calculation somewhere – but even ‘enjoying the distraction’ seems like too much of a guess, since (North Korea) was already testing to aggressively before the war,” John Delury, a professor at Yonsei University in South Korea, said on Twitter.


China’s representative on the Korean Peninsula, Liu Xiaoming, said on Sunday that he had spoken by phone with his American counterpart, Sung Kim, and urged the United States to address Korea’s legitimate and reasonable concerns. of the North with greater attention, in order to create the conditions for a resumption of dialogue. .

“I stressed that under the current situation, relevant parties should be careful in their words and actions, avoid stimulating each other, so as to avoid an escalation of tension on the Korean Peninsula,” Liu said on Twitter, without specifying when the telephone conversation took place. place and without mentioning the last test.

North Korea, which has close ties with China, did not test any missiles at the Beijing Olympics in February. The 2022 Paralympic Winter Games begin Friday in Beijing.

Complaining about the continued “hostile policies” of the United States, North Korea has hinted that it may resume testing of its longer-range missiles or even nuclear weapons.

Pyongyang has an ambitious military modernization agenda, and the Kim regime’s strength and legitimacy have become tied to testing ever better missiles, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“North Korea will not do anyone the favor of remaining silent as the world faces Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” he said.

Washington says it is open to talks with North Korea without preconditions, but Pyongyang has so far dismissed such overtures as insincere.

North Korea’s ballistic missile launches are banned by United Nations Security Council resolutions, which imposed sanctions on the country for its missile and nuclear weapons programs.

In its first comments since Russia invaded Ukraine on Thursday, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry released a statement from a scholar on Saturday calling the United States the “root cause” of the European crisis for having pursued sanctions and unilateral pressure while ignoring Russia’s legitimate demands for its security. .

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Reporting by Josh Smith in Seoul; Additional reporting by Tim Kelly in Tokyo, and David Brunnstrom and Idrees Ali in Washington; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Leslie Adler, William Mallard and Tom Hogue

Our standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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