North Korea fired two suspected ballistic missiles into the sea on Thursday in its sixth round of weapons launches this month, according to South Korea’s military.
Experts say North Korea’s unusually fast pace in testing activity underscores an intent to pressure Joe Biden’s administration over long-stalled negotiations aimed at exchanging a release of crippling US-led sanctions for the North’s denuclearisation steps.
The renewed pressure comes as the pandemic further shakes the North’s economy, which was already battered by the sanctions over its nuclear weapons programme and decades of mismanagement by its government.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the weapons, which were likely short-range, were launched five minutes apart from the eastern coastal town of Hamhung and flew 100 miles before landing at sea.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said there has so far been no reports of damage to vessel and aircraft around the Japanese coast.
The North also last week issued a veiled threat to resume the testing of nuclear explosives and long-range missiles targeting the American homeland, which leader Kim Jong Un suspended in 2018 while initiating diplomacy with the US.
Some experts say North Korea could dramatically escalate weapons demonstrations after the Winter Olympics, which begin February 4 in China, the North’s main ally and economic lifeline.
The Biden administration has offered open-ended talks but showed no willingness to ease sanctions unless Mr Kim takes real steps to abandon the nuclear weapons and missiles he sees as his strongest guarantee of survival.
The North has been ramping up its testing activity since last fall, demonstrating various missiles and delivery systems apparently designed to overwhelm missile defence systems in the region.
Thursday’s launch came two days after South Korea’s military detected the North flight-testing two suspected cruise missile at an unspecified inland area.