North Korea fired a suspected ballistic missile into the sea on Wednesday, the South Korean and Japanese militaries said, its first public weapons launch in about two months and a signal that Pyongyang isn’t interested in rejoining denuclearization talks anytime soon and would rather focus on boosting its weapons arsenal.
The latest launch came after North Korean leader Kim Jong-un vowed to further boost his military capability at a high-profile ruling party conference last week.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that North Korea fired a suspected ballistic missile toward its eastern waters on Wednesday morning. It said South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities were trying to analyze more information about the launch.
The Japanese Defence Ministry also detected the North Korean launch, saying the country likely fired a missile.
“Since last year, North Korea has repeatedly launched missiles, which is very regrettable,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.
Kishida said other details about the North Korean launch weren’t immediately available, including where the suspected missile landed and whether there had been any damage. He said he ordered officials to confirm the safety of ships and planes in the area where the suspected missile likely flew and fell.
Wednesday’s launch is the first such firing since North Korea tested a series of newly developed weapons between September and November including nuclear-capable missiles that place South Korea and Japan, both key U.S. allies in the region, within striking distance. Some experts said North Korea was applying more pressure on its rivals to accept it as a nuclear power state and to ease international sanctions on the country.
The Biden administration has repeatedly said it is open to resuming nuclear diplomacy with North Korea “anywhere and at any time” without preconditions. The North has so far rebuffed such overtures, saying U.S. hostility remains unchanged.
Diplomacy efforts collapsed
U.S.-led diplomacy aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear program collapsed in 2019 due to wrangling over how much sanctions relief should be given to the North in return for dismantling its main nuclear complex, a limited denuclearization step. Kim has since threatened to enlarge his nuclear and missile arsenals.
During last week’s plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers’ Party, Kim repeated his vows to boost his country’s military capacity and ordered the production of more powerful, sophisticated weapons systems.
State media dispatches on the meeting said North Korea set forth “tactical directions” for North Korea’s external relations including with South Korea, but didn’t elaborate. It made no mention of the United States.
Last month, Kim marked 10 years in power. Since assuming control after his father and longtime ruler Kim Jong-il’s death in December 2011, Kim Jong-un has established absolute power at home and bolstered his nuclear and missile arsenals.
But his country’s economy has been battered severely by the coronavirus pandemic, U.N. sanctions and mismanagement, though few experts question his grip on power.