North Korea fires two ‘unidentified projectiles’ into the sea

North Korea fired two unidentified projectiles into its eastern sea today as it restarts weapons demonstrations after coronavirus may have caused a month-long hiatus.  

The projectiles were fired near the coastal town of Wonsan and flew around 149 miles, according to Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The South Korean and U.S. militaries jointly analysed the launches but didn’t immediately confirm whether the weapons were ballistic or rocket artillery.

It comes just two days after Kim Jong Un supervised an artillery drill aimed at testing the combat readiness of units in front-line and eastern areas, according to state media.   

Experts say the recent lull in North Korea’s launches was due to the country holding back its weapons displays while fighting against the coronavirus, which state media has described as a matter of ‘national existence.’ 

North Korea fired two unidentified projectiles into its eastern sea today as it restarts weapons demonstrations after coronavirus may have caused a months-long hiatus

North Korea fired two unidentified projectiles into its eastern sea today as it restarts weapons demonstrations after coronavirus may have caused a months-long hiatus

North Korea fired two unidentified projectiles into its eastern sea today as it restarts weapons demonstrations after coronavirus may have caused a months-long hiatus

Some analysts speculated that it cut back training and other large gatherings of soldiers to reduce the possibility of the virus spreading within its military.

Kim’s latest show of force is apparently aimed at boosting military morale, strengthening internal unity and showing that his country is doing fine despite outside worries of how the North would contend with an outbreak.

North Korea in previous years has intensified testing activity in response to springtime military exercises between South Korean and the U.S while describing them as invasion rehearsals. 

But the allies announced last week that they were postponing their annual drills due to concern about the coronavirus outbreak in South Korea that infected soldiers of both countries.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, inspects the military drill of units of the Korean People's Army, with soldiers shown wearing face masks

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, inspects the military drill of units of the Korean People's Army, with soldiers shown wearing face masks

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, inspects the military drill of units of the Korean People’s Army, with soldiers shown wearing face masks

The launches were the latest setback for dovish South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who despite the North’s indifference has repeatedly pleaded for reviving inter-Korean engagement. 

In a speech on Sunday marking the 101th anniversary of a major uprising against Japanese colonial rule, Moon called for cooperation between the Koreas to fight infectious disease amid the COVID-19 outbreak in Asia.

Amid the deadlock in larger nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration, Kim has suspended virtually all cooperation with South Korea in past months while demanding that Seoul defies U.S.-led international sanctions and restart inter-Korean economic projects that would jolt the North’s broken economy.

North Korea has yet to confirm any COVID-19 cases, although state media have hinted that an uncertain number of people have been quarantined after exhibiting symptoms. 

The projectiles were fired near the coastal town of Wonsan and flew around 149 miles, according to Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff

The projectiles were fired near the coastal town of Wonsan and flew around 149 miles, according to Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff

The projectiles were fired near the coastal town of Wonsan and flew around 149 miles, according to Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff

North Korea has shut down nearly all cross-border traffic, banned tourists, intensified screening at entry points and mobilized tens of thousands of health workers to monitor residents and isolate those with symptoms. 

South Korea last month withdrew dozens of officials from an inter-Korean liaison office in Kaesong after North Korea insisted on closing it until the epidemic is controlled.

North Korea likely tested one of its new road-mobile, solid-fuel missile systems or a developmental ‘super large’ multiple rocket launcher it repeatedly demonstrated last year, said Kim Dong-yub, an analyst from Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies. 

Experts say such weapons can potentially overwhelm missile defense systems and expand the North’s ability to strike targets in South Korea and Japan, including U.S. bases there.

Kim Jong Un had entered the New Year vowing to bolster his nuclear deterrent in face of ‘gangster-like’ U.S. sanctions and pressure.

The leader used a key ruling party meeting in late December to warn of ‘shocking’ action over stalled nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration.

He also said the North would soon reveal a new ‘strategic weapon’ and insisted the North was no longer ‘unilaterally bound’ to a self-imposed suspension on the testing of nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missiles. 

It comes just two days after Kim Jong Un supervised an artillery drill aimed at testing the combat readiness of units in front-line and eastern areas, according to state media

It comes just two days after Kim Jong Un supervised an artillery drill aimed at testing the combat readiness of units in front-line and eastern areas, according to state media

It comes just two days after Kim Jong Un supervised an artillery drill aimed at testing the combat readiness of units in front-line and eastern areas, according to state media

But Kim didn’t explicitly lift the moratorium or give any clear indication that such tests were impending and seemed to leave the door open for eventual negotiations.

Japan said it has not detected any projectile landing in Japan’s territory or its exclusive economic zone, and no sea vessels or aircraft had been damaged.

‘The repeated firings of ballistic missiles by North Korea is a serious problem for the international community including Japan, and the government will continue to gather and analyze information, and monitor the situation to protect the lives and property of the people,’ the Defense Ministry’s statement said.

Kim and President Donald Trump met three times since embarking on their high-stakes nuclear diplomacy in 2018, but negotiations have faltered since their second summit last February in Vietnam, where the Americans rejected North Korean demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capability.

Following the collapse in Hanoi, the North ended a 17-month pause in ballistic activity and conducted at least 13 rounds of weapons launches last year, using the standstill in talks to expand its military capabilities.

Those weapons included road-mobile, solid-fuel missiles designed to beat missile defense systems and a developmental midrange missile that could eventually be launched from submarines, potentially strengthening the North’s ability to strike targets in South Korea and Japan, including U.S. bases there.

The North in December said it conducted two ‘crucial’ tests at a long-range rocket facility that would strengthen its nuclear deterrent, prompting speculation that it’s developing a new ICBM or preparing a satellite launch that would further advanced its long-range missile technology.

 

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