North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Sunday, Seoul said, and resumed an attack on weapons testing after a month-long lull during the Beijing Winter Olympics, with the world’s attention now on Ukraine.
The launch on Sunday marks the eighth so far this year in Pyongyang, including testing of the most powerful missile since the high-profile negotiations between leader Kim Jong Un and then-US President Donald Trump collapsed in 2017.
Diplomacy has languished ever since. And despite harsh international sanctions, Pyongyang has doubled military development and last month threatened to abandon a self-imposed moratorium on the firing of long-range and nuclear weapons.
Analysts had widely predicted that Pyongyang would try to capitalize on the US distraction over Thursday’s Russian invasion of Ukraine with new tests.
The South Korean military said Sunday it had detected a ballistic missile fired from Pyongyang toward the Sea of Japan at 07:52 local time (Saturday 2252 GMT).
“The latest ballistic missile has a range of about 300 kilometers and an altitude of about 620 kilometers,” it added. Japan also confirmed the launch.
South Korea’s presidential Blue House expressed “deep concern and deep regret” and criticized the timing “when the world makes efforts to resolve the war in Ukraine”.
South Korea has said it will align itself with international economic sanctions against Russia and, as a key US security ally, is closely monitoring Washington’s response to Moscow’s aggression.
Pyongyang, on the other hand, is “seizing the opportunity” to conduct weapons tests, while “US interest shifted to Europe because of the crisis in Ukraine and the UN Security Council was unable to function,” Shin Beom-chul, a researcher at the Korea Research Institute of National Strategy, told AFP†
North Korea sees this as a perfect time to “continue to develop necessary weapons and strengthen its nuclear arsenal” with a view to being recognized as a nuclear power, he added.
Ukraine, emerging from the Cold War with its own sizeable Soviet-era nuclear weapons stockpiles, gave up its arsenal in the 1990s.
North Korea this weekend accused the United States of being the “root cause of the Ukraine crisis” and said in a statement on the State Department’s website that Washington “interfered” in other countries’ internal affairs when it suited them, but legitimate “self-defensive measures.”
Missiles ‘top priority’
North Korea is faltering economically from biting sanctions over its weapons programs and a prolonged coronavirus lockdown, but continuing its “ambitious schedule of military modernization” is a top priority, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul.
“The Kim regime’s strength and legitimacy are linked to testing increasingly better missiles,” he added in emailed comments.
The pause in testing during the Beijing Winter Olympics was seen as a mark of respect for important diplomatic ally and economic benefactor China.
The latest launch also comes as South Korea gears up to elect its next president on March 9.
Outgoing South Korean President Moon Jae-in, who has held repeated peace talks with the north during his five-year term, has warned the situation could easily escalate.
“If North Korea’s series of missile launches goes as far as lifting the moratorium on long-range missiles, the Korean peninsula could immediately revert to the crisis situation we faced five years ago,” he said in a written interview with the international news agency. press. , including AFP, this month.
Under Trump’s successor Joe Biden, the United States has repeatedly expressed its willingness to meet with North Korean representatives. Pyongyang has turned down the offer.
Domestically, North Korea is gearing up to celebrate the 110th anniversary of the birth of late founder Kim Il Sung in April, which experts say could be used by Pyongyang to conduct a major weapons test.
Recent satellite images suggest the North may be preparing a military parade to demonstrate its weapons to mark the main anniversary.
“North Korea will be cautious about testing an intercontinental ballistic missile as it is the last remaining map that could put pressure on the United States,” Park Won-gon, a professor of North Korean Studies at the Ewha Women’s Institute, said. University, at AFP.
“A card like that only makes sense when you have it in your hand.”