Seoul, South Korea
North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles at sea on Thursday, its neighbors said, in the latest in a series of weapons demonstrations this year that came just hours after confirming its first case of coronavirus since the start of the pandemic.
The launches could underscore North Korea’s resolve to continue its efforts to expand its arsenal despite the virus outbreak to rally support behind leader Kim Jong Un and keep pressure on rivals amid more diplomacy long dormant nuclear.
Thursday’s launches were the first weapons fired by the North since the inauguration of South Korea’s new conservative President Yoon Suk Yeol on Tuesday.
North Korea has a habit of shaking new governments in Seoul and Washington with the apparent aim of bolstering its strengths in future negotiations. The North Korean nuclear threat will likely be high on the agenda when Yoon meets US President Joe Biden in Seoul next week.
South Korea and Japan both condemned launches from the northern capital region on Thursday afternoon.
The missiles dove in waters between North Korea’s east coast and outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said. There were no reports of damage to aircraft or vessels.
South Korea’s military said it has stepped up preparedness and surveillance while maintaining close coordination with the United States. He called on the North to immediately cease its repeated missile fire.
South Korea and Japan released similar flight details, saying the weapons flew around 350 to 360 kilometers (217 to 224 miles) at a maximum altitude of 90 to 100 kilometers (56 to 62 miles).
Earlier on Thursday, North Korean state media confirmed the country’s first COVID-19 infections as Kim ordered nationwide shutdowns to slow the spread of the virus. Kim also ordered officials to strengthen the country’s defense posture to avoid a security vacuum.
In recent months, North Korea has tested a series of missiles in what experts call an attempt to modernize its weapons and pressure the United States and its allies to accept it as a nuclear state and ease sanctions against the North. Some observers say that despite lofty anti-virus measures, North Korea would likely continue to build up its arsenal with weapons testing to boost public morale and build loyalty to Kim’s leadership.
“North Korea’s latest missile launches seem excessive compared to what would be needed to test and improve military capabilities,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “These launches look like a show of force after the Kim regime publicly admitted to a coronavirus outbreak.”
A statement released after a meeting chaired by Yoon’s national security adviser Kim Sung-han said South Korea would seek ‘practical’ and ‘tough’ measures in cooperation with the international community to respond to the threat growing North Korean.
North Korean weapons tested recently included a variety of nuclear-capable missiles that could potentially reach South Korea, Japan or the mainland United States. capable of reaching the entire American homeland.
The UN Security Council has generally imposed punitive sanctions on North Korea after conducting long-range nuclear and missile tests. But that didn’t happen in March because members with veto power are divided over Russia’s war in Ukraine.
Last Saturday, South Korea detected a North Korean ballistic missile launch likely from a submarine, the first such test since last October. There are also signs that the North is preparing to carry out its first nuclear test in nearly five years at a remote proving ground in its northeast.
Yamaguchi reported from Tokyo.