North Korea has fired at least one ballistic missile towards the sea off its eastern coast South Korea and Japan have said.
One unidentified ballistic missile was launched at about 10:17am (01:17 GMT) on Tuesday from the vicinity of Sinpo, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
North Korea has a submarine base as well as equipment for test-firing submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs) in the area and has previously launched other types of missiles from there.
“Our military is closely monitoring the situation and maintaining readiness posture in close cooperation with the United States, to prepare for possible additional launches,” JCS said in a statement. The presidential office said it would convene a meeting of its National Security Council to discuss the launch.
In Japan, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said that two ballistic missiles had been detected, the Reuters news agency reported. Kishida described the North’s recent series of missile tests as “regrettable”.
Officials from the United States and South Korea have been trying to encourage North Korea back to stalled negotiations on its banned weapons and nuclear programmes.
“We will seek diplomacy with the DPRK to make tangible progress that increases the security of the United States and our allies,” Sung Kim, the US special representative on North Korea, said in a statement following talks with his South Korean counterpart in Washington on Monday. Intelligence chiefs from the US, South Korea, and Japan are due to meet in Seoul on Tuesday to discuss the situation in North Korea, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
Negotiations on dismantling the North’s banned nuclear programme have been stalled since February 2019 when a summit in Vietnam between then-US President Donald Trump and the North’s leader Kim Jong Un collapsed. A later meeting between the two men at the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas failed to make any headway.
Since then, Pyongyang has stepped up weapons testing – a move Kim has said is necessary for his country’s “self defence” – showing off new developments in missile technology and stepping up activity at its Yongbyon nuclear complex.
The country staged a series of weapons tests last month that included what it said was a hypersonic missile, although last week it held out the prospect of a resumption in diplomacy if Seoul dropped what it called “double standards”.
It is banned from carrying out ballistic missile tests under United Nations’ sanctions.
“North Korea is trying to coerce the world into accepting its violations of UN Security Council Resolutions as if they are normal acts of self-defense,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said in an emailed response to the launch. “This is part of the Kim regime’s efforts to achieve de facto international recognition as a nuclear power and receive concessions just for resuming contact.”
South Korea has also been stepping up military modernisation, with Seoul testing its first SLBM last month, and developing new military equipment such as aircraft carriers and upgrading its air force capabilities with American-made F-35 stealth fighters. It is planning its first space launch later this week.
Despite the arms build-up, and flurry of tests, the two Koreas earlier this month restored a communication hotline just over two months after Pyongyang suddenly stopped picking up Seoul’s calls.
The move was an attempt to establish “lasting peace” on the peninsula, the state-run KCNA news agency quoted Kim as saying at the time.
North Korea is also struggling with the effect of prolonged border closures imposed because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which have exacerbated the effect of international sanctions.
At the 76th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea last weekend, Kim called on officials to do more to improve the lives of the country’s citizens given the “grim” economic situation.
The country marked the anniversary with art performances, galas and a fireworks show but did not hold any large military parade.