North Korea has test-fired two ballistic missiles just days after firing a new kind of cruise missile with possible nuclear capabilities.
South Korea‘s military said the two missiles were fired from an unknown inland location before coming down somewhere near the east coast.
The move is likely designed as a provocation to Joe Biden and other world leaders, as ballistic missile tests violate UN resolutions on the North’s weapons programme and are likely to trigger a diplomatic response.
It also comes two weeks after Kim Jong Un restarted a nuclear reactor at Yongbyon which had been shut down during negotiations with Donald Trump.
Kim had shut down much of his nuclear programme and scuttled his main nuclear testing site during the negotiations, in which he hoped to convince Trump to lift crippling economic sanctions in return for permanently giving up his nukes.
The leaders met three times – an historic achievement for Kim, who was the first North Korean leader ever to meet with an American president – but the talks ultimately foundered with the two sides failing to reach an agreement.
Since then, North Korea has carried out a series of low-level missile tests in an attempt to force America back to the negotiating table.
Joe Biden has said he is willing to meet with Kim, but said the pre-condition of any such meeting would be a serious commitment to scrapping his nuclear arsenal.
‘What I would not do is what has been done in the recent past,’ Biden said back in May, referring to Trump’s summits with Kim.
‘I would not give him all he’s looking for, international recognition as legitimate, and give him what allowed him to move in a direction of appearing to be more serious about what he wasn’t at all serious about.’
Biden has since appointed South Korean ambassador Sung Kim as envoy to North Korea, who is working on establishing diplomatic links with a view to arranging a summit and ultimately to getting rid of North Korea’s nukes.
Kim’s regime test-fired a cruise missile just hours after Biden took office in January, and launched a short-range ballistic missile in March.
However, it has stopped short of testing its intercontinental-range ballistic missiles – which are capable of ranging the US – since the Trump negotiations began.
It is unclear what the range of the missiles launched on Wednesday are, or whether they are of a new type.
North Korea typically test-fires its ballistic missiles on a steep trajectory, meaning they go up into the atmosphere before coming back down well short of their maximum range.
Japan’s Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called Wednesday’s launch ‘outrageous’, saying it threatened peace and security in the region.
‘North Korea fired two unidentified ballistic missiles from its central inland region toward the east coast, and intelligence authorities of South Korea and the United States are conducting detailed analysis for further information,’ South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
The latest launch came as foreign ministers of South Korea and China held talks in Seoul amid concerns over North Korea’s recent cruise missile test and the stalled denuclearisation negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington.
North Korea said it successfully tested a new long-range cruise missile at the weekend, calling it ‘a strategic weapon of great significance.’
Kim’s regime typically uses the phrase ‘strategic weapon’ to refer to nuclear missiles, leading analysts to conclude that it could be the North’s first cruise missile that is able to carry a nuclear warhead.
If so, it poses security risks to neighbours such as Japan and South Korea because their missile defences are set up to detect and destroy incoming ballistic missiles.
Cruise missiles are self-propelled and fly along a relatively straight and flat trajectory for most of their flight, similar to the way fighter jets fly, meaning they can sneak under radar defences but have a shortened range since they need to carry more fuel.
Ballistic missiles travel along an arched trajectory and are only powered for the first part of their flight before using gravity to fall back to Earth, similar to the way that space rockets fly.
It means they are easier to detect using radar but have a much longer range because they need to carry less fuel.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, when asked about the earlier cruise missile tests, said all parties should work to promote peace and stability on the Korean peninsula.
“Not only North Korea but other countries are carrying out military activity,” he told reporters. “All of us should make efforts in a way that helps resume dialogue.”
In a meeting with Wang on Wednesday, Moon asked for China’s support to restart dialogue, saying North Korea has not been responding to offers from South Korea and the United States for talks or engagement such as humanitarian aid, Moon’s spokesperson said.
The nuclear envoys of South Korea, Japan, and the United States were meeting in Tokyo this week as well. read more
U.S. envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, said on Tuesday the United States has no hostile intent towards Pyongyang and hopes it responds positively to offers for talks on its weapons programmes.
Kim was due to meet with his Japanese counterpart for a bilateral meeting on Wednesday.