They took place as top officials from South Korea, the US and Japan arrived in Tokyo ahead of discussions with Pyongyang over stalled denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula. Analysts believe that the timing of the North’s latest show of force is no coincidence. According to North Korea’s state-run outlet, Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), the country launched a number of advanced missiles over the weekend. They reportedly flew in figure-of-eight or oval flight patterns for around 1,500 kilometers (932 miles) before being guided onto targets.
That range would mean the weapon is capable of hitting targets almost anywhere in South Korea or Japan. The KCNA declared that the long-range cruise missile is “a strategic weapon of great significance” and has been under development for the past two years. Analysts noted that the tests come just days after a major military parade through Kim Il-sung Square in Pyongyang to mark the 73rd anniversary of the founding of the North Korean state. The launches follow last month’s confirmation that operations appear to have resumed at the regime’s Yongbyon nuclear facility. The facility processes fissile material for nuclear warheads.
A ‘provocative’ move
Sung Kim, US President Joe Biden’s special envoy for North Korea, arrived in Japan’s capital Tokyo on Saturday to meet with Noh Kyu-duk, his South Korean counterpart, and Takehiro Funakoshi, director general of Japan’s Foreign Ministry department for North Korea. “That meeting was to focus on creative ways of diplomatically engaging Pyongyang [on the nuclear issue],” Leif-Eric Easley, an associate professor of international studies at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, told DW. “But now a trilateral statement is needed that mentions sanctions and defense cooperation, while also calling on North Korea to practice military restraint, resume dialogue and accept humanitarian assistance for alleviating the suffering of its people.” The test was particularly provocative and merited international sanctions because the cruise weapons were “strategic,” implying an intention to miniaturise nuclear warheads to fit on them, Easley said. “However, Pyongyang may be calculating that Washington will take a weaker approach [to sanctions], given strained US relations with China and Russia and both those countries’ general opposition to increasing sanctions,” he told DW. China, which shares a land border with North Korea, remains the country’s biggest trade partner, according to US-based think tank Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), helping sustain Kim Jong Un’s regime.
Russia, which also borders the North, has allowed companies to re-export North Korean coal and transship oil and petroleum to other countries in violation of UN sanctions, according to the CFR. The US was quick to condemn the launches. The US Indo-Pacific Command released a statement Monday saying it was continuing to monitor the situation and was consulting with allies and partners throughout the region. “This activity highlights [North Korea’s] continuing focus on developing its military program and the threats that poses to its neighbours and the international community,” it said. “The US commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remains ironclad.”
Attracting attention from the US
Meanwhile, Rah Jong-yil, a former diplomat and head of the South Korean intelligence department tasked with monitoring North Korea, said the recent activity could be an attempt to attract US attention. He billed it as a “typical reaction” from the North. “It is certainly something we have seen in the past when they want something,” he added. “That may be the case, but ultimately what can the rest of the world do now?” asked Rah.
This article was provided by Deutsche Welle