SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea launched what appears to be a ballistic missile into its eastern sea on Tuesday, its second weapon launch in a week, the South Korean and Japanese military said.
This month’s launches follow a series of weapons tests in 2021 that underscored how North Korea continues to build military capabilities amid a self-imposed pandemic lockdown and stalled nuclear talks with the United States.
South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said North Korea most likely fired a single ballistic missile from an inland area into its eastern sea, and the South Korean and US military would analyze the launch. It didn’t immediately tell how far the gun was going. The Japanese Prime Minister’s Office and Ministry of Defense said the North Korean weapon may be a ballistic missile, but did not immediately provide further details.
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Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said officials were checking the safety of ships and planes across Japan, but there were no immediate reports of disruption or damage.
“It is extremely unfortunate that North Korea continues to fire missiles,” said Kishida shortly after the UN Security Council discussed its response to the earlier downing of the north.
The Guam Homeland Security and Civil Protection Bureaus said they were monitoring reports of the north launch, but no imminent threat was assessed to Guam, a major US military center in the Pacific.
The last launch came six days after the north launched a ballistic missile into the sea in what was later described as a successful test of a hypersonic missile, a type of weapon the north allegedly first tested in September.
Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said North Korea may have retested its alleged hypersonic missile in response to the South Korean military downplaying last week’s test.
The Seoul Defense Ministry said after the test that North Korea had exaggerated its capabilities and tested a conventional ballistic missile that the South could intercept. The ministry said it doubts North Korea had acquired the technology needed to make a hypersonic weapon.
Hypersonic weapons that travel at speeds greater than Mach 5 or five times the speed of sound could pose a critical challenge to missile defense systems because of their speed and maneuverability. Such weapons were on a wish list of advanced military equipment that Kim introduced earlier last year.
Experts say North Korea is likely years away from acquiring a credible hypersonic system.
North Korea’s previous January 5 test came just days after Kim vowed at a major political conference to strengthen its armed forces even as the nation grapples with pandemic-related troubles that have continued to weigh on its economy and that of the US sanctions because of their nuclear weapons were paralyzed program.
The economic setbacks leave Kim with little to show for his diplomacy with former US President Donald Trump, which slipped away after their second meeting in 2019 when the Americans rejected North Korea’s demand for extensive sanctions against a partial abandonment of its nuclear capacities.
The Biden government has said it is ready to resume talks with North Korea “anywhere, anytime” without any preconditions.
But North Korea has so far rejected the idea of open-ended talks, stating that the US must first withdraw its “hostile policy,” a term the North mainly uses to describe the sanctions and joint military exercises between the US and South Korea.