North Korea on Saturday fired two presumed short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, South Korea’s military said, as it continues to expand military capabilities amid deadlocked nuclear negotiations with the Trump administration and a crippling global health crisis.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the projectiles were fired around 6:45 and 6:50 a.m. from an area around the county of Sonchon, western North Korea. They and flew 410 kilometres cross-country on an apogee of 50 kilometres before landing in waters off the eastern coast.
South Korea and the U.S. were analyzing the launches. Seoul’s military urged the North to immediately stop its “very inappropriate” military demonstrations when the world is struggling to cope with the coronavirus pandemic.
Japan’s Defence Ministry said the North Korean projectiles didn’t reach Japanese territory or its exclusive economic zone.
The North conducted two previous rounds of similar short-range launches and other military exercises this month after leader Kim Jong Un entered the new year vowing to bolster his nuclear deterrent in face of “gangster-like” U.S. sanctions and pressure.
South Korea’s military alerted the latest launches shortly after North Korea’s state media reported that Kim supervised an artillery firing competition between army units in the country’s west on Friday.
The KCNA said Kim expressed satisfaction over the exercise that was aimed at evaluating combat readiness. The report didn’t mention any direct comments by Kim toward Washington or Seoul.
Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency also said on Saturday that the North has decided to hold a session of its rubber-stamp parliament on April 10. It wasn’t immediately clear what would be discussed.
Nuclear talks have stalemated since the collapse of the second summit between Kim and U.S. President Donald Trump in early 2019, when the Americans rejected North Korean demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.
While Kim has declared to build up his nuclear arsenal and achieve a “frontal breakthrough” against sanctions while urging his nation to stay resilient in a struggle for economic “self-reliance,” some experts say North Korea’s self-imposed lockdown amid the coronavirus crisis could potentially hamper his ability to mobilize people for labour.
North Korea has not publicly confirmed a single case of the COVID-19 illness, but state media have described anti-virus efforts as a matter of “national existence.” Experts say an epidemic in North Korea could have dire consequences due to the country’s poor health system and shortage of medical supplies.
The country has banned foreign tourists, shut down nearly all cross-border traffic with China, intensified screening at entry points and mobilized health workers to monitor residents and isolate those with symptoms.