North Korea fired a suspected ballistic missile Saturday, Seoul’s military said, continuing this year’s record-breaking blitz of weapons tests with a launch just days before South Korea’s presidential election.
From hypersonic to medium-range ballistic missiles, Pyongyang test-fired a string of weaponry in January and last week launched what it claimed was a component of a “reconnaissance satellite”—although Seoul described it as another ballistic missile.
Despite biting international sanctions over its nuclear weapons, Pyongyang has ignored US offers of talks since high-profile negotiations between leader Kim Jong Un and then-US president Donald Trump collapsed in 2019.
Instead of diplomacy, Pyongyang has doubled-down on Kim’s drive to modernise its military, warning in January that it could abandon a self-imposed moratorium on testing long-range missiles and nuclear weapons.
South Korea’s military said Saturday it had detected a presumed “ballistic missile launched into the East Sea from the Sunan area around 08:48 am.”
Japan also confirmed the launch, saying the missile had flown “at a maximum altitude of approximately 550 kilometres and a distance of approximately 300 kilometres,” Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said.
He said the “extremely high frequency” of Pyongyang’s weapons tests this year were “a threat to the region… and are absolutely unacceptable.”
The North’s sabre-rattling comes just four days before South Korea votes for a new president, with the tests seemingly a means of Pyongyang conveying its “discontent” with outgoing president Moon Jae-in, analysts said.
“Looks like Kim is feeling that Moon did not do much after the Hanoi summit collapsed,” said North Korean studies scholar Ahn Chan-il, referring to the final meeting between Kim and Trump.
Pyongyang has clearly “decided to prioritise their own military agenda regardless of what South Korea thinks,” he added.
Tensions with North Korea are no longer a major issue in South Korean elections, analysts say, with issues including domestic income inequality and youth unemployment top of voters lists of concerns.
But if Moon’s ruling Democratic party lose on Wednesday, it could herald a shift in Seoul’s North Korea policy.
One of the two frontrunners, dour former prosecutor Yoon Suk-yeol of the opposition People Power Party, has threatened a pre-emptive strike on South Korea’s nuclear-armed neighbour if needed.