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A tactical guided missile is launched, according to state media, at an undisclosed location in North Korea, in this photo released January 17 2022 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency. File photo: KCNA via REUTERS
A tactical guided missile is launched, according to state media, at an undisclosed location in North Korea, in this photo released January 17 2022 by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency. File photo: KCNA via REUTERS

Nuclear-armed North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast on Thursday, according to South Korean military officials, the sixth round of missile tests this month.

It is among the most missiles launched by North Korea in a month, analysts said, as it began 2022 with a display of new and operational weapons.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it had detected the launch of what it presumed were two ballistic missiles at about 8am local time from near Hamhung, on North Korea’s east coast. The weapons travelled for about 190km to a maximum altitude of 20km, JCS said.

The suspected missiles appeared to have landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Japanese defence minister Nobuo Kishi said.

Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the government was gathering details on the launches, adding that any tests of ballistic missiles were “deeply regrettable” and violated UN Security Council resolutions.

The US government condemned the tests, which were violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions, a State Department spokesperson said in a written statement.

North Korea said this month it would bolster its defences against the US and consider resuming “all temporarily suspended activities”, an apparent reference to a self-imposed moratorium on tests of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles.

 North Korea also fired two cruise missiles into the sea off its east coast on Tuesday, South Korea’s military said, amid rising tension over its series of weapons tests.

Earlier in the month, North Korea tested tactical guided missiles, two “hypersonic missiles” capable of high speed and manoeuvring after lift-off, and a railway-borne missile system.

“The [Kim Jong Un] regime is developing an impressive diversity of offensive weapons despite limited resources and serious economic challenges,” said Leif-Eric Easley, an international affairs professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

Certain tests aim to develop new capabilities, especially for evading missile defences, while other launches are intended to demonstrate the readiness and versatility of missile forces that North Korea has already deployed, he added.

“Some observers have suggested that the Kim regime’s frequent launches are a cry for attention, but Pyongyang is running hard in what it perceives as an arms race with Seoul,” Easley said.

In a speech to the UN-sponsored Conference on Disarmament on Tuesday, North Korea’s ambassador UN in Geneva, Han Tae Song, accused the US of staging hundreds of “joint war drills” while shipping hi-tech offensive military equipment into South Korea and nuclear strategic weapons into the region.

“This is seriously threatening the security of our state,” Han said.

Stalled talks

US President Joe Biden’s administration sanctioned several North Korean and Russian individuals and entities this month on accusations they were helping North Korea’s weapons programmes, but China and Russia delayed a US bid to impose UN sanctions on five North Koreans.

On Wednesday, US Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Japan and Korea Mark Lambert said that Washington has “no reservations” about talking with North Korea and is willing to meet anywhere and talk about anything.

“We have to have a serious discussion about the denuclearisation of North Korea, and if North Korea is willing to do that, all sorts of promising things can happen,” he said during a webinar hosted by the Washington-based Center for Strategic and International Studies.

North Korea has defended its missile tests as its sovereign right to self-defence, and said the US sanctions proved that even as Washington proposes talks, it maintains a “hostile” policy towards Pyongyang.

“The recent test-firing of new types of weapons was part of activities for carrying out a medium- and long-term plan for development of national science,” Han said on Tuesday. “And it does not pose any threat or damage to the security of neighbouring countries and the region.”

North Korea hasn’t launched long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) or tested nuclear weapons since 2017, but began testing a slew of shorter-range missiles after denuclearisation talks stalled following a failed summit with the US in 2019.



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