North Korea Fires Suspected Rocket Launchers

File photo of North Korean President Kim Jong Un (C) attending a grand military parade held at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang to commemorate the 90th founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

North Korea fired what appeared to be multiple rocket launchers Sunday, Seoul said, the latest in a series of provocations by the nuclear-armed nation to heighten tensions in the region.

The South Korean military detected “flight trajectories” that were suspected to shot from North Korean artillery, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

“Our military spotted flight trajectories that are suspected to be North Korea’s multiple rocket launchers from around 18:21 to 18:37 pm today,” said the Joint Chiefs of Staff in a text message to reporters.

“Our military has strengthened surveillance and vigilance, and maintained a thorough readiness posture while keeping close US-South Korea cooperation,” it added, without further details.

Seoul authorities did not share how many trajectories were detected in total.

The presidential National Security Office held a meeting over the North’s firing, and said it was “closely monitoring” the situation in case of additional launches by Pyongyang.

North Korea has carried out a blitz of sanctions-busting weapons tests this year, including firing an intercontinental ballistic missile at full range for the first time since 2017.

Washington and Seoul officials have also warned that the isolated regime is preparing to carry out what would be its seventh nuclear test — a move that the United States warned would provoke a “swift and forceful” response.

Last month, South Korean Defence Minister Lee Jong-sup said Seoul would “strengthen” its defence capabilities, as well as its security cooperation with Washington and Tokyo, to counter the nuclear threat from Pyongyang.

A total of six US top-of-the-line F-35A fighters arrived in the South last week for a 10-day allied exercise running until July 14, in the first public deployment of American stealth warplanes in the country since late 2017.

North Korea Fires Missile After COVID-19 Cases Prompt Kim To Order Lockdown

This undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 17, 2022, shows the test-fire of a new-type tactical guided weapon at an undisclosed location in North Korea. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

North Korea confirmed its first-ever Covid cases Thursday and declared a “serious emergency”, with leader Kim Jong Un appearing in a mask on television for the first time to order nationwide lockdowns.

Hours after the shock announcement — the first time the nuclear-armed country has ever admitted to a case of Covid-19 — Seoul’s military said it had detected three short-range ballistic missiles fired from near Pyongyang.

The launch, one of more than a dozen sanctions-busting weapons tests so far this year, comes shortly after Washington warned that Kim’s regime could test a nuke any day, with satellite images indicating fresh activity at nuclear sites.

Earlier Thursday, North Korea said it had moved into “maximum emergency epidemic prevention system” after patients sick with fever in Pyongyang tested positive for the “Omicron BA.2 variant” of Covid-19.

Kim, wearing a mask on state television for the first time, oversaw an emergency politburo meeting to discuss the outbreak and “called on all the cities and counties of the whole country to thoroughly lock down their areas.”

Kim told the meeting that the goal was to “quickly cure the infections in order to eradicate the source of the virus spread,” KCNA said, without specifying how many Covid infections had been detected.

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North Korea’s crumbling health infrastructure would struggle to deal with a major outbreak, with its 25 million people not vaccinated, experts say.

By following its admission of Covid cases with a missile test, North Korea is signalling “coronavirus control and its pursuit of national defence are two separate things,” Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies said.

“It is now reasonable to assume it could also conduct a nuclear test with Kim Jong Un’s greenlight at any moment,” he added.

No Vaccines 

This file photo taken on April 25, 2022, and released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 26 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (C) attending a grand military parade held at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang to commemorate the 90th founding anniversary of the Korean People’s Revolutionary Army. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

“For Pyongyang to publicly admit Omicron cases, the public health situation must be serious,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul said.

“Pyongyang will likely double down on lockdowns, even though the failure of China’s zero-Covid strategy suggests that approach won’t work against the Omicron variant.”

North Korea has turned down offers of vaccinations from the World Health Organization, China, and Russia.

Accepting vaccines through the WHO’s Covax scheme “requires transparency over how vaccines are distributed,” Go Myong-Hyun, a researcher at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies told AFP.

“That’s why North Korea rejected it,” Go said.

North Korea is surrounded by countries that have battled — or are still fighting to control — significant Omicron-fuelled outbreaks.

South Korea, which has high rates of vaccination, has recently eased almost all Covid-19 restrictions, with cases sharply down after a spike in March.

Neighbouring China, the world’s only major economy to still maintain a zero-Covid policy, is battling multiple Omicron outbreaks.

Major Chinese cities, including the financial capital Shanghai, have been under strict lockdowns for weeks.

China said Thursday it was “ready to provide full support and assistance to North Korea in its fight against the epidemic,” foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian said.

It appears North Korea will try to avoid China’s strict measures, which have seen millions of people locked into their apartments for several weeks, including in Beijing, said Cheong Seong-chang of the Sejong Institute.

But even less harsh measures would create a “severe food shortage and the same chaos China is now facing,” he said.

Seoul-based specialist site NK News reported that areas of Pyongyang had already been locked down for two days, with reports of panic buying.

Nuke Test?

South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol, who was sworn in Tuesday, has vowed to get tough with Pyongyang, after five years of failed diplomacy.

After high-profile talks collapsed in 2019, North Korea has doubled down on weapons testing, conducting a blitz of launches so far this year, including intercontinental ballistic missiles.

Satellite imagery indicates North Korea is preparing to conduct a nuclear test, and the United States has warned this could come as soon as this month.

But the Covid-19 outbreak could potentially disrupt their military programme, analysts said.

“There is a possibility of delaying the nuclear test in order to focus on overcoming the coronavirus,” Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies, told AFP.

But he said if public fears over an outbreak were to spread, Kim might go ahead with a test “to divert this fear to another place”.

AFP

US Envoy Condemns North Korea’s Missile Launch, Calls For Diplomacy

This undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on April 17, 2022 shows the test-fire of a new-type tactical guided weapon at an undisclosed location in North Korea.  STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

North Korea must return to a “diplomatic path”, the top US envoy for the country said Monday, following Pyongyang’s blitz of missile launches and growing signs it is resuming nuclear testing.

North Korea has carried out more than a dozen weapons tests so far this year, the latest one over the weekend — a short-range test that state media claimed would enhance the “efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes”.

US Special Representative for North Korea Sung Kim arrived in Seoul for a five-day visit Monday and met his South Korean counterpart Noh Kyu-duk.

After talks, the two envoys jointly condemned “recent escalatory actions” by Pyongyang, including what they said were “at least three” launches of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs).

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“We agreed on the need for a strong response to the destabilising behaviour we have been from the DPRK,” Kim told reporters, using the acronym for North Korea’s official name.

“We also discussed how to respond to future DPRK actions, including a possible nuclear test,” he added.

Kim reiterated that the United States has offered to meet Pyongyang “anywhere without any preconditions”, saying that Washington has not “closed the door on diplomacy”.

“I once again call on Pyongyang to pursue a diplomatic path with us,” Kim said. “I want to make clear that we have no hostile intent towards the DPRK.”

Pyongyang has so far rebuffed offers of talks, blaming Washington’s hostile policies.

Kim’s visit comes as Seoul and Washington kicked off a nine-day annual joint military drill. Such exercises have always infuriated Pyongyang, which calls them a rehearsal for war.

The allies regularly stage military exercises, but they have been scaled back in recent years as outgoing President Moon Jae-in made efforts to facilitate nuclear talks with North Korea.

“This training is a defensive command post-training using computer simulation, and there is no real military manoeuvre training,” Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Sunday.

North Korea had paused long-range and nuclear tests while leader Kim Jong Un met then-US President Donald Trump for a bout of doomed diplomacy, which collapsed in 2019. Talks have since stalled.

But last month Pyongyang test-fired an ICBM at the full range for the first time since 2017.

Recent signs of new activity at North Korea’s key nuclear testing site have also raised concerns over the possible resumption of nuclear testing.

South Korean officials have said Pyongyang could stage a military parade or carry out a weapons test on or around April 25, the anniversary of the founding of the Korean People’s Army.

AFP

India Accidentally Fires Missile Into Pakistan

(File Photo) Missiles

 

India’s military accidentally fired a missile into neighbouring Pakistan, New Delhi’s defence ministry said on Friday, calling it “deeply regrettable”.

Hindu-majority India and Muslim Pakistan have fought three wars since independence from British colonial rule in 1947, two of them over the disputed territory of Kashmir.

Their shared border has a heavy military presence on both sides, and there have been numerous flare-ups between them, with tensions sometimes raising fears of an atomic exchange.

“In the course of a routine maintenance, a technical malfunction led to the accidental firing of a missile” on Wednesday, India’s defence ministry said.

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It did not specify the type of missile, but said it landed “in an area of Pakistan”.

The incident was “deeply regrettable”, it said, adding that it was “a matter of relief that there has been no loss of life due to the accident”.

The defence ministry declined to provide further information to AFP.

The statement came hours after Islamabad’s foreign ministry condemned what it called an “unprovoked violation of its airspace by an Indian origin ‘super-sonic flying object'”.

India’s charge d’affaires in Islamabad had been summoned to the foreign office for a “strong protest”, it added.

The “imprudent launch” had damaged property on the ground and put at risk both civilian lives and aircraft in Pakistani airspace, it said, accusing India of “callousness towards regional peace and stability”.

New Delhi has more than 500,000 troops stationed in Indian-administered Kashmir, where rebel groups have battled for decades for the region’s independence or its merger with Pakistan.

New Delhi accuses Islamabad of backing the insurgents, which it denies.

Indian aircraft bombed what New Delhi called a terrorist training camp deep inside Pakistan in 2019 after a suicide bombing claimed by a Pakistan-based militant group killed 40 Indian troops.

In aerial skirmishes over Kashmir the next day, at least one Indian jet was shot down and its pilot captured by Pakistan, but Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan had him released in a “peace gesture”.

AFP

North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile, Resumes Weapons Tests Blitz

People watch a television screen showing a news broadcast with file footage of a North Korean missile test, at a railway station in Seoul on February 27, 2022, after North Korea fired an “unidentified projectile” according to the South’s military. Jung Yeon-je / AFP

 

North Korea fired a ballistic missile Sunday, Seoul said, resuming a weapons-testing blitz after a month-long lull during the Beijing Winter Olympics, with the world’s attention now focused on Ukraine.

The Sunday launch is Pyongyang’s eighth so far this year, including test-firing its most powerful missile since high-profile negotiations between leader Kim Jong Un and then US President Donald Trump collapsed in 2017.

Diplomacy has languished ever since. And despite biting international sanctions, Pyongyang has doubled down on military development, threatening last month to abandon a self-imposed moratorium on firing long-range and nuclear weapons.

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Analysts had widely predicted Pyongyang would seek to capitalise on US distraction over Russia’s Thursday invasion of Ukraine with new tests.

South Korea’s military said Sunday it had detected a ballistic missile fired towards the Sea of Japan at 07:52 local time (2252 GMT Saturday) from Pyongyang.

“The latest ballistic missile has a range of around 300 kilometres and an altitude of around 620 kilometres,” it added. Japan also confirmed the launch.

South Korea’s presidential Blue House expressed “deep concern and grave regret”, and criticised the timing “when the world is making efforts to resolve the Ukraine war”.

South Korea has said it will join international economic sanctions against Russia and, as a key US security ally, is closely watching Washington’s response to Moscow’s aggression.

Pyongyang, on the other hand, is “seizing the opportunity” to conduct weapons tests while “the US interest shifted to Europe over the Ukraine crisis and the UN Security Council unable to function,” Shin Beom-Chul, a researcher at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, told AFP.

North Korea sees this as a perfect moment to “continue its development of necessary weapons and to strengthen its nuclear arsenal”, with a view to being recognised as a nuclear power, he added.

Ukraine, which emerged from the Cold War with sizeable Soviet-era nuclear weapons stocks of its own, gave up its arsenal in the 1990s.

North Korea this weekend accused the United States of being the “root cause of the Ukraine crisis” saying in a statement on the Foreign Ministry website that Washington “meddled” in the internal affairs of other countries when it suited them but condemned legitimate “self-defensive measures”.

Missiles ‘top priority

North Korea is reeling economically from biting sanctions over its weapons programmes and a lengthy coronavirus blockade, but continuing its “ambitious schedule of military modernisation” is a top priority, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul.

“The Kim regime’s strength and legitimacy have become tied to testing ever better missiles,” he added in emailed comments.

The pause in testing during the Beijing Winter Olympics was seen as a mark of deference to key diplomatic ally and economic benefactor China.

The latest launch also comes as South Korea gears up to elect its next president on March 9.

Outgoing South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who repeatedly pursued peace talks with the North during his five-year term, has warned that the situation could easily escalate.

“If North Korea’s series of missile launches go as far as scrapping a moratorium on long-range missile tests, the Korean Peninsula may instantly fall back into the state of crisis we faced five years ago,” he said in a written interview with international press, including AFP, this month.

Under Trump’s successor Joe Biden, the United States has repeatedly declared its willingness to meet North Korean representatives. Pyongyang has dismissed the offer.

Domestically, North Korea is preparing to celebrate the 110th anniversary of the birth of late founder Kim Il Sung in April, which experts say Pyongyang could use to carry out a major weapons test.

Recent satellite images suggest that the North may be preparing a military parade to showcase its weapons to mark the key anniversary.

“North Korea will be prudent about testing an intercontinental ballistic missile since it’s the last remaining card that can put pressure on the United States,” Park Won-gon, a professor of North Korean Studies at Ewha Woman’s University, told AFP.

“Such a card is only meaningful when you’re holding it in your hand.”

AFP

UAE Intercepts Yemen Rebel Missile As Israeli President Visits

This image grab from footage released by the UAE Ministry of Defence on January 31, 2022 reportedly shows the destruction of a missile launch site operated by the Huthis in Al-Jawf in northern Yemen. (Photo by UAE Defence Ministry / AFP)

 

The United Arab Emirates shot down a ballistic missile fired by Yemen’s Huthi rebels during a visit by Israel’s president Monday, the latest attack to rattle the Middle East financial hub.

Nobody was hurt in the early-hours attack, the third in consecutive weeks on the wealthy Gulf nation that is part of the Saudi-led coalition fighting Yemen’s Iran-backed insurgents.

“Air defence forces… intercepted and destroyed a ballistic missile launched by the Huthi terrorist group at the UAE,” the ministry said, according to the official WAM news agency.

It said fragments of debris fell “outside of populated areas”, without giving further details.

The ministry said it responded by destroying the missile launch site in Yemen’s northern Al-Jawf region, releasing black-and-white footage of the explosion.

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The latest rebel missile was fired as Isaac Herzog makes the first visit to the UAE by an Israeli president, after the countries established diplomatic ties under the 2020 Abraham Accords.

Herzog, who met Abu Dhabi Crown Prince Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al-Nahyan on Sunday, visited Dubai’s Expo 2020 site on Monday. He was also due to hold talks with the UAE prime minister and ruler of Dubai, Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al-Maktoum.

Herzog will “continue his visit as planned”, his office said, as the United States condemned the Huthi attack.

“While Israel’s president is visiting the UAE to build bridges and promote stability across the region, the Huthis continue to launch attacks that threaten civilians,” State Department spokesman Ned Price tweeted.

– Spate of attacks –

Monday’s attack was the latest in a series against the Emirates.

Three oil workers were killed in a drone-and-missile attack on Abu Dhabi on January 17 — the first deadly assault in the UAE claimed by the Huthis — and two ballistic missiles were intercepted over the capital a week later.

The attacks, which follow a spike in hostilities in Yemen, have raised Gulf tensions further at a time when international talks over Iran’s nuclear programme are floundering and have helped push oil prices to seven-year highs.

The Iran-backed Huthis began attacking UAE interests after a series of defeats on the ground in Yemen, inflicted by the UAE-trained Giants Brigade militia.

In early January, the rebels seized a UAE-flagged ship in the Red Sea, saying it was carrying weapons — a claim denied by the Emirates.

– Warning of more assaults –

Rebel military spokesman Yahya Saree said the rebels targeted Abu Dhabi with a number of ballistic missiles and Dubai with multiple drones.

He also warned “citizens, residents and companies to stay away from… vital facilities as they are at risk of being targeted in the coming period”.

The UAE’s defence ministry said it blew up the launch site at 12:50 am UAE time (2050 GMT), exactly 30 minutes after the missile was intercepted.

The Emirates affirms its “full readiness to deal with any threats” and will “take all necessary measures to protect the UAE from any attacks”, it added.

The UAE authorities said that the incident had no impact on air traffic, with flight operations proceeding normally.

A senior Emirati official last week vowed that Huthi attacks will not become a “new normal” for the Gulf country, a trade, business and tourism centre and a major oil exporter.

The UAE withdrew its troops from Yemen in 2019 but remains an influential player. It also hosts American troops and is one of the world’s biggest arms buyers.

Yemen’s civil war began in 2014 when the Huthis seized the capital Sanaa, prompting Saudi-led forces to intervene to prop up the government the following year.

The conflict has killed hundreds of thousands of people directly or indirectly and left millions on the brink of famine, according to the United Nations which calls it the world’s worst humanitarian catastrophe.

North Korea Tests Most Powerful Missile Since 2017

This picture taken on January 17, 2022, and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on January 18, 2022, shows test-fire of a tactical guided missile conducted under a plan of the Academy of Defence Science, at an undisclosed location. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP
This picture taken on January 17, 2022, and released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on January 18, 2022, shows test-fire of a tactical guided missile conducted under a plan of the Academy of Defence Science, at an undisclosed location. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

North Korea on Sunday tested its most powerful missile since 2017, ramping up the firepower for its record-breaking seventh launch this month as Seoul warned nuclear and long-range tests could be next.

Pyongyang has never test-fired this many missiles in a calendar month before and last week threatened to abandon a nearly five-year-long self-imposed moratorium on testing long-range and nuclear weapons, blaming US “hostile” policy for forcing its hand.

With peace talks with Washington stalled, North Korea has doubled-down on leader Kim Jong Un’s vow to modernise the regime’s armed forces, flexing Pyongyang’s military muscles despite biting international sanctions.

South Korea said Sunday that North Korea appeared to be following a “similar pattern” to 2017 — when tensions were last at breaking point on the peninsula — warning Pyongyang could soon restart nuclear and intercontinental missile tests.

North Korea “has come close to destroying the moratorium declaration”, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said in a statement following an emergency meeting of Seoul’s National Security Council.

South Korea’s military said Sunday it had “detected an intermediate-range ballistic missile fired at a lofted angle eastward towards the East Sea.”

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The missile was estimated to have hit a maximum altitude of 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) and flown around 800 kilometres for half an hour, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

A lofted trajectory involves missiles being fired at a high angle instead of out to their full range.

“North Korea did similar tests with its emerging medium and long range missile technology in 2017,” tweeted Chad O’Carroll of specialist website NK News.

“So this would imply today’s test involves one of those missile types — or potentially something new. In other words, a big deal.”

The last time Pyongyang tested an intermediate-range missile was the Hwasong-12 in 2017, which analysts said at the time was powerful enough to put the US territory of Guam in range.

Japan’s top government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno said Sunday that the ballistic missile “was one with intermediate-range or longer range.”

The United States condemned the launch, with a State Department spokesperson telling Yonhap news agency it was a “clear violation” of multiple UN resolutions.

 ‘Time Is Ripe’ 

Pyongyang has tested hypersonic missiles twice this month, as well as carrying out four launches of short-range ballistic and cruise missiles.

Washington imposed fresh sanctions in response, prompting Pyongyang to vow a “stronger and certain” response to any attempt to rein it in.

Last week, leader Kim was photographed by state media inspecting an “important” munitions factory that produces “a major weapon system”.

“Kim has been withholding his appetite for testing and provocations,” Soo Kim, an analyst at the RAND Corporation, told AFP.

Now, however, “the time is ripe, and North Korea’s continued missile firing will only throw another wrench into Washington’s already high plate of foreign policy challenges,” she added.

The frenzy of missiles aims to remind the world that “the Kim regime hears external discussions of its domestic weaknesses,” said Leif Easley, a professor at Ewha University.

“It wants to remind Washington and Seoul that trying to topple it would be too costly,” he added.

The string of launches in 2022 comes at a delicate time in the region, with Kim’s sole major ally China set to host the Winter Olympics next month and South Korea gearing up for a presidential election in March.

Domestically, North Korea is preparing to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the birth of late leader Kim Jong Il in February, as well as the 110th birthday of founder Kim Il Sung in April.

AFP

North Korea Fires More Suspected Missiles

This picture taken on January 14, 2022, and released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on January 15 shows a firing drill of a railway-borne missile regiment is held in North Pyongan Province. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

North Korea fired two suspected ballistic missiles Monday, Seoul said, its fourth weapons test this month as Pyongyang flexes its military muscle while ignoring offers of talks from the United States.

Despite biting international sanctions, Pyongyang has conducted a string of weapons tests this year, including hypersonic missiles, as leader Kim Jong Un pursues his avowed goal of further strengthening the military.

Reeling economically from a self-imposed coronavirus blockade, impoverished North Korea has not responded to Washington’s offers of talks while doubling down on weapons tests and vowing a “stronger and certain” response to any attempts to rein it in.

The launches come at a delicate time in the region, with North Korea’s sole major ally China set to host the Winter Olympics next month and South Korea gearing up for a presidential election in March.

Two suspected “short-range ballistic missiles” were fired east from an airport in Pyongyang early Monday, the South Korean military’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, with Japan also confirming the launch.

Fired just before 9 am (0000 GMT), they flew 380 kilometres (about 240 miles) at an altitude of 42 km, the JCS added.

The frequent and varied tests this year indicate North Korea “is trying to improve its technology and operational capability in terms of covert actions”, Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters.

READ ALSO: North Korea’s Kim Calls For More ‘Military Muscle’ After Missile Test

Pyongyang said it successfully tested hypersonic gliding missiles on January 5 and January 11, with the second launch personally supervised by Kim.

In response, the United States last week imposed fresh sanctions on five North Koreans connected to the country’s ballistic missile programmes, prompting an angry reaction from Pyongyang.

A North Korean foreign ministry spokesman described the move as a “provocation”, according to state news agency KCNA.

If “the US adopts such a confrontational stance, the DPRK will be forced to take stronger and certain reaction to it”, the spokesman said hours before Pyongyang fired two train-launched missiles Friday.

Analysts said the Monday test also appeared to be an attempt to send the United States a message.

“It is signalling that it will forge ahead with tests despite criticism,” Hong Min of the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul told AFP.

 Needs a Win 

This picture taken on January 5,2022 and released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on January 6 shows what North Korea says is the Academy of Defence Science of the DPRK test-fired a hypersonic missile on January 5 at an unconfirmed location. (Photo by KCNA VIA KNS / AFP)

 

Hypersonic missiles are a top priority in Pyongyang’s new five-year defence development plan, unveiled in January 2021, which it has pursued while dialogue with the United States remained stalled.

With the country battling major economic hardship domestically after years of Covid-induced isolation, Pyongyang may be looking to offer citizens a military victory ahead of key domestic anniversaries.

“It needs to present something to North Koreans,” said Cheong Seong-chang of the Center for North Korea Studies at the Sejong Institute.

“It now has become clear that it will be difficult for the North to score on the economic side.”

This weekend, a North Korean freight train crossed the Yalu River railroad bridge into China for the first time in over a year, according to the Yonhap news agency.

The move could signal the prospect of resumed China-North Korea land trade, which has been suspended since the start of the pandemic in early 2020.

It is likely the missile launches will ease off ahead of the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics, said Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies.

“As stability on the peninsula is a prerequisite for the successful Beijing Olympics, the North will not cross a red line,” Yang said.

AFP

North Korea’s Kim Calls For More ‘Military Muscle’ After Missile Test

This undated picture released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 29, 2020 shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers' Party of Korea. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP
This undated picture released from North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on February 29, 2020, shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending a meeting of the Political Bureau of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea. STR / KCNA VIA KNS / AFP

 

Kim Jong Un personally oversaw the successful test of a hypersonic missile, state media said Wednesday and urged North Korea to press ahead with building more “strategic military muscle” despite international sanctions over its nuclear weapons programme.

Pictures in state media showed Kim using binoculars to observe the second missile launch by the nuclear-armed nation in less than a week.

Hypersonic missiles are listed among the “top priority” tasks for strategic weapons development in North Korea’s five-year plan.

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After the launch, Kim said North Korea must “further accelerate the efforts to steadily build up the country’s strategic military muscle both in quality and quantity and further modernize the army”, according to KCNA.

The Tuesday test, which came as the UN Security Council met in New York to discuss Pyongyang’s weapons programme, sparked swift condemnation, with the US State Department branding it a “threat… to the international community.”

It was the third reported North Korean test of a hypersonic gliding missile. The first, which took place four months ago, was followed by one last week.

North Korea’s state news agency KCNA said the most recent test demonstrated “the superior manoeuverability of the hypersonic glide vehicle”. It also claimed it accurately hit a target some 1,000 kilometers (620 miles) away.

South Korea’s military, which had cast doubt on Pyongyang’s initial claims, said the missile launched on Tuesday had reached hypersonic speeds and showed clear signs of “progress” from last week’s test.

The missile flew 700 kilometres (435 miles) at an altitude of about 60 kilometres (37 miles) at Mach 10 speed, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

Hypersonic missiles travel at speeds of at least Mach 5 — five times the speed of sound — and can manoeuvre mid-flight, making them harder to track and intercept.

“Everything about this test is a reminder that North Korea is all-in on a new military modernization campaign,” Ankit Panda of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace said on Twitter Wednesday.

“Kim’s working his way down his 8th Party Congress wish list and is once again personally guiding tests,” Panda said, referring to a recent meeting of high-level North Korean officials.

Russia, the United States, and China have all reported successfully testing hypersonic glide missiles. Russia is generally seen as the world leader in technology.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said the weapon was not ready for deployment.

“Nonetheless, Pyongyang’s ability to threaten its neighbours continues to grow,” he said.

The fact that Kim attended the missile test indicates that North Korea is satisfied with the level of progress, said Lim Eul-chul, a professor of North Korean studies at Kyungnam University in Seoul.

“Since … the test was the final verification, additional tests of hypersonic missiles, at least, are not expected for a while,” Lim said.

– Stalled talks –
The tests come as North Korea has refused to respond to US appeals for talks.

At a key meeting last month of North Korea’s ruling party, Kim vowed to continue building up the country’s defence capabilities, without mentioning the United States.

Dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang remains stalled, and the country is under multiple sets of international sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

The impoverished nation has also been under a rigid self-imposed coronavirus blockade that has hammered its economy.

AFP

North Korea Fires Suspected Ballistic Missile Into Sea

File photo used to illustrate the story.

 

North Korea fired what appeared to be a ballistic missile into the sea on Wednesday, South Korea and Japan said, in the first such launch by Pyongyang this year.

In the decade since Kim Jong Un took power, North Korea has made rapid progress in its military technology at the cost of international sanctions.

The nuclear-armed nation’s first apparent weapons launch of 2022 follows a year of major arms tests despite the severe economic hardship during the coronavirus pandemic.

The South Korean military said the North fired what is “presumed to be a ballistic missile” towards the sea east of the peninsula at around 8:10 am (2310 GMT Tuesday) from Jagang province, which borders China.

After an emergency meeting, South Korea’s national security council “expressed concerns over the launch”, according to a statement by the president’s office.

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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida described it as a “possible ballistic missile launch”.

“It is truly regrettable that North Korea has continuously launched missiles since last year,” he told reporters.

Kishida said the Japanese government was analysing details, including how many missiles may have been launched.

“There have been no reports of damage to Japanese aircraft and vessels so far,” Japan’s top government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters.

“We are continuing analysis, but if it took a normal orbit, it is expected to have travelled about 500 kilometres and fallen outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.”

The launch followed a speech by Kim last week in which he said North Korea would continue to build up its military capabilities.

“I expect North Korea to continue refining its arsenal as a way to improve its strategic position at a time of political change in the region,” Jean Lee, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Woodrow Wilson International Center, told AFP.

In 2021, North Korea said it successfully tested a new type of submarine-launched ballistic missile, a long-range cruise missile, a train-launched weapon, and what it described as a hypersonic warhead.

 Stalled Dialogue 

The dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang remains stalled, following the collapse of talks between Kim and then-president Donald Trump in 2019.

Under Trump’s successor Joe Biden, the United States has repeatedly declared its willingness to meet North Korean representatives, while saying it will seek denuclearisation.

But Pyongyang has so far dismissed the offer, accusing Washington of pursuing “hostile” policies.

At the end of a key meeting of the ruling Workers’ Party last week, Kim did not mention the United States at all.

Instead of the policy positions on diplomacy for which Kim’s New Year statements have been closely watched in recent years, he focused on food security and development in an extensive speech.

But he said Pyongyang would continue to boost its capabilities, keeping in mind “the military environment of the Korean peninsula” and the changing international situation.

“Pyongyang is sending the message to the US that it will not change and therefore Washington must give in,” Shin Beom-chul, a researcher at the Korea Research Institute for National Strategy, told AFP.

North Korea is under multiple sets of international sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

The impoverished nation has also been under a rigid self-imposed coronavirus blockade that has hammered its economy.

The worsening economic situation during the pandemic, however, has not blunted those programmes, and North Korea has continued to pursue weapons development, a UN report said in October.

Concerns have grown about a full-blown food crisis in North Korea, and a United Nations human rights expert warned in October that the most vulnerable were “at risk of starvation”.

AFP

North Korea Slams UN Over Meeting On Missile Test

 

North Korea on Sunday slammed the UN Security Council for holding an emergency meeting over the country’s latest missile tests, accusing the member states of toying with a “time-bomb”.

Pyongyang said Friday it had successfully fired an anti-aircraft missile, the latest in a series of tension-raising steps by the nuclear-armed state, which had until recently been biding its time since the change in US administrations in January.

In September, it launched what it said was a long-range cruise missile, and earlier this week tested what it described as a hypersonic gliding vehicle, which South Korea’s military said appeared to be in the early stages of development.

The tests prompted UN Security Council member states to convene an emergency meeting on North Korea on Friday, called by the United States, Britain and France.

The meeting was originally due to take place on Thursday but was delayed. It lasted just over an hour and ended without a statement.

But it nonetheless angered Pyongyang, which called it a “wanton encroachment” on its sovereignty and a “serious intolerable provocation”.

“Demanding that we renounce our right to self-defence means an expression of its intention not to acknowledge the DPRK as a sovereign state,” said Jo Chol Su, director of the Department of International Organisations at the foreign ministry, using the abbreviation for the country’s official name.

“I express strong concerns over the fact that the UNSC amused itself with the dangerous ‘time-bomb’ this time,” he added in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

North Korea has a long history of using weapons tests as part of a carefully calibrated process to try to forward its objectives.

On Wednesday, the country’s leader Kim Jong Un decried Washington’s repeated offers of talks without preconditions as a “petty trick”, accusing the Biden administration of continuing the “hostile policy” of its predecessors.

Under President Joe Biden, the United States has repeatedly declared its willingness to meet North Korean representatives, while saying it will seek denuclearisation.

N. Korea Fired Two Missiles In First Test Under Biden  – US, South

U.S. President Joe Biden delivers remarks about Monday’s mass shooting in Boulder, Colorado, in the State Dining Room at the White House on March 23, 2021 in Washington, DC.

 

North Korea fired two short-range missiles just days after a visit to the region by the top US defense and diplomatic officials, but President Joe Biden said they were not a serious provocation.

It was nuclear-armed North Korea’s first launch since his inauguration — Pyongyang has been biding its time since the new administration took office, not even officially acknowledging its existence until last week.

Washington is reviewing its approach to Pyongyang after a tumultuous relationship between president Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, which went from trading insults and threats of war to a diplomatic bromance and several meetings, but made no substantive progress towards denuclearization.

North Korea on Sunday fired two short-range, non-ballistic missiles, US administration officials said Tuesday, but downplayed them as “common” military testing and said they did not violate UN Security Council resolutions.

South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said they appeared to be cruise missiles and were fired over the Yellow Sea, known as the West Sea in Korea — so towards China, rather than US ally Japan.

The launches followed joint exercises by the US and South Korean militaries earlier this month and came just days after US Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin visited Tokyo and Seoul to discuss alliance and security issues in the region, with the North seen as a central threat.

But it was an unusually restrained response by Pyongyang, which has so far not announced them in state media.

Asked by reporters about the tests, Biden said: “According to the Defense department, it’s business as usual. There’s no new wrinkle in what they did.”

A senior US administration official told reporters the launches were “on the low end” of the spectrum of North Korean actions, and nothing like the nuclear weapon tests or intercontinental ballistic missile launches with which Pyongyang has previously provoked Washington.

“It is common practice for North Korea to test various systems,” an official added. “We do not respond to every kind of test.”

– Reigniting talks –
While Blinken and Austin were in Seoul on March 18, North Korean first vice foreign minister Choe Son Hui accused the United States of a “lunatic theory of ‘threat from North Korea’ and groundless rhetoric about ‘complete denuclearization.'”

President Joe Biden’s two-month-old administration hopes to reignite negotiations with the Kim regime on its nuclear arsenal after Trump’s headline-grabbing efforts stalled.

Initial outreach from Washington to Pyongyang has turned up empty, but US officials are hopeful they can reconnect, while working in coordination with allies Japan and South Korea.

Trump held two summits with Kim, in Singapore and Vietnam, and the United States pulled back on some joint training activities with South Korea’s military while North Korea froze ballistic missile tests.

But their February 2019 meeting in Hanoi broke up over sanctions relief and what the North would be willing to give up in return. Communications then dried up, despite a third encounter in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the Korean peninsula.

Biden officials are now finalizing a strategy to restart talks that the White House will discuss with Japanese and South Korean security officials next week, an administration official said.

“We have taken efforts and we will continue to take efforts” to communicate, they added.

But they said that Pyongyang cannot expect concessions — such as cutting back on bilateral military exercises — from Biden.

“Some of the efforts that were taken previously to turn off necessary exercises were actually antithetical to our position.”

– Coronavirus blockade –
North Korea is more isolated than ever after imposing a strict border closure to protect itself from the coronavirus, blockading itself more effectively than any sanctions regime.

The move has hit its already moribund economy and analysts say its authorities are likely to be focused on those domestic issues.

Cheong Seong-chang, director of the Center for North Korean Studies at the Sejong Institute in Seoul, told AFP: “We shouldn’t identify every North Korean missile test as a provocation since the South also carries out such tests in regular military exercises.”

But he added: “Pyongyang could elevate the intensity of missile tests from short-range to medium-range in the months ahead if it thinks Washington is doubling down on punitive policy against it.”

AFP