Seoul accuses North Korea of firing more missiles
As world struggles with coronavirus pandemic, Pyongyang takes the opportunity to test ‘short-range ballistic missiles’
Seoul — North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Sunday, the fourth such launch this month as the world battles the coronavirus pandemic.
Two projectiles were fired eastward from the port city of Wonsan and flew 230km into the Sea of Japan at a maximum altitude of 30km, South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said in a statement. “Such military action by North Korea is an extremely inappropriate act when the entire world is having difficulties due to the Covid-19 outbreak,” they added.
Tokyo’s defence ministry said the “ballistic missile-like objects” did not cross into Japanese waters or the country’s exclusive economic zone.
The latest launch by Pyongyang comes as a prolonged hiatus in disarmament talks with the US drags on.
A little over a week ago, the nuclear-armed North fired what were believed to be two short-range ballistic missiles, describing them as a new “tactical guided weapon”.
A day later North Korean state media announced that US President Donald Trump had sent a letter to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un detailing a plan to develop ties. The report cited Kim’s powerful sister Kim Yo-jong, who warned that the apparently good personal relationship between the two leaders would not be enough to foster broader relations.
“In the letter, he ... explained his plan to propel the relations between the two countries of the DPRK and the US and expressed his intent to render co-operation in the anti-epidemic work,” an apparent reference to the coronavirus pandemic, she said in the statement reported by the North’s Korean Central News Agency. The DPRK is the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
A senior US administration official confirmed Trump had sent a letter to Kim, “consistent with his efforts to engage global leaders during the ongoing pandemic”.
North Korea is one of the few remaining countries in the world yet to report a case of novel coronavirus infection. But the outbreak has turned into an international crisis, with more than 685,000 confirmed cases and 32,000 dead worldwide.
Analysts say the North has been continuing to refine its weapons capabilities more than a year after a summit between Kim and Trump broke down in Hanoi. Negotiations have since been deadlocked over sanctions relief and what the North would be willing to give up in return.
Pyongyang set a unilateral end-2019 deadline for Washington to offer fresh concessions. In late December, Kim declared his country no longer considered itself bound by moratoriums on nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile tests.
North Korea is under multiple sets of UN, US and other sanctions over its weapons programmes.
Heightened tensions in 2017 were followed by two years of nuclear diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington, including three meetings between Kim and Trump, but little tangible progress was made.