Two short-range ballistic missiles were fired by North Korea Friday, South Korean officials said. This was in apparent reprisal against the Biden administration’s continued tests launches.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missiles came from an inland area in western North Pyongan province.
Japan’s Prime Minister’s Office and the Defense Ministry also detected the launch, while its coast guard urged vessels to pay attention to falling objects.
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A few hours earlier, North Korea released a statement in which it criticized the Biden administration’s decision to impose new sanctions on its missile testing. It warned that Washington would take stronger and more direct action if Washington continues its “confrontational” stance.
The sanctions targeted five North Koreans over their roles in obtaining equipment and technology for the North’s missile programs in its response to the North’s missile test this week. Washington stated that it will seek out new U.N. sanction.
The previous test-launch of a hypersonic missile on Tuesday — the second a week — was overseen by leader Kim Jong Un, who said it would greatly increase his country’s nuclear “war deterrent.”
North Korea has increased the testing of nuclear-capable missiles to counter missile defenses. Experts believe Kim will return to an old-fashioned tactic of threatening the world with nuclear missile launches before offering concessions.
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Following an unusually provocative run in nuclear and long-range missile tests in 2017 that demonstrated the North’s pursuit of an arsenal that could target the American homeland, Kim initiated diplomacy with former President Donald Trump in 2018 in an attempt to leverage his nukes for economic benefits.
But the negotiations derailed after Kim’s second summit with Trump in 2019, when the Americans rejected his demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of the North’s nuclear capabilities.
Kim has since pledged to further expand a nuclear arsenal he clearly sees as his strongest guarantee of survival, despite the country’s economy suffering major setbacks after it shut its borders during the pandemic as well as persistent U.S.-led sanctions.
His government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s open-ended offer to resume talks, saying Washington must abandon its “hostile policy” first — a term Pyongyang mainly uses to describe the sanctions and joint U.S.-South Korea military drills.
Leif-Eric Easley is a professor at Ewha University, Seoul. He said that North Korea seems to signal it won’t be ignored, and would respond with pressure.
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Easley claimed that North Korea “is trying to create a trap” for the Biden government. It has accumulated missiles it is planning to test and is reacting to U.S. demands with more provocations to get concessions.”
In a statement carried by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, an unidentified Foreign Ministry spokesperson on Friday defended the launches as a righteous exercise of self-defense.
According to the spokesperson, the sanctions are a sign of hostile U.S. intentions that were aimed at “isolating” and “stifling the North. The spokesperson accused Washington of maintaining a “gangster-like” stance, saying that the North’s development of the new missile is part of its efforts to modernize its military and does not target any specific country or threaten the security of its neighbors.
Due to their speed and maneuverability, hypersonic weaponry, or weapons that fly faster than Mach 5, could be a major threat to missile defenses.
These weapons are part of a list Kim shared with the world early last year. They also included spy satellites, multi-warhead missiles and long-range solid fuel missiles.
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Experts still believe that North Korea will need to conduct years of more rigorous and long-range testing before it can develop a hypersonic system.
In an interview with MSNBC, Secretary of State Antony Blinken called the North’s latest tests “profoundly destabilizing” and said the United States was deeply engaged at the U.N. and with key partners, including allies South Korea and Japan, on a response.
“I believe that some of these are attempts by North Korea to gain attention. It’s done that in the past. It’ll probably continue to do that,” Blinken said. We are focused on working with our allies and partners to ensure that we and they are well defended, and there are consequences and repercussions for North Korean actions.”