(Bloomberg) – North Korea fired eight short-range ballistic missiles on Sunday, pushing it to a record number of launches in a single year under Kim Jong Un, who appears set to heighten tensions further with his first test of a nuclear device since 2017.
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South Korea’s military said it detected the missile fire between 9:08 a.m. and 9:43 a.m. from an area around Pyongyang’s main airport to waters off its east coast. The one-day ballistic barrage is likely the largest since Kim took power a decade ago, with launches for this year beating the previous record of 24. North Korea has so far fired 31 missiles ballistic in 2022, including at least two unsuccessful attempts. .
“While our military has heightened surveillance and vigilance to prepare for any additional launches, we maintain a full readiness posture in close cooperation with the United States,” the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said. in a press release.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he was informed that the missiles had landed outside his country’s exclusive economic zone, calling the launches a threat to peace. The South Korean National Security Council met to discuss North Korean activities.
Japan’s Defense Ministry said it confirmed at least six missiles were launched from multiple sites. They reached a maximum altitude of between 50 and 100 kilometers (31-62 miles) and traveled about 300 to 400 kilometers, the ministry said, adding that at least one missile had an irregular trajectory.
The latest test comes after South Korea and the United States held a joint naval exercise in international waters off the Japanese island prefecture of Okinawa. New South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol has promised closer security cooperation with Biden and an intensification of joint military exercises, decried by Pyongyang for years as a prelude to an invasion.
“For Kim to remain silent after that would have been a tacit sign of resigning,” said Soo Kim, a political analyst at Rand Corp. who previously worked at the Central Intelligence Agency.
“Yet, Kim Jong Un did not conduct a nuclear test. We know it’s happening, so it’s a matter of when, not if,” she said, adding that Pyongyang will watch how Biden and Yoon will react to this latest round of missile tests “as a barometer of their actions to even more intense provocation.”
The US Indo-Pacific Command said it was aware of the latest launches, saying in a statement that they “highlight the destabilizing impact of the DPRK’s illicit weapons program”, referring to North Korea by its official name.
North Korea last fired missiles on May 25, just hours after Joe Biden completed his first trip as president to South Korea and Japan. It was one of the biggest provocations to coincide with a US president’s visit to the region and tested Biden’s efforts to strengthen defense ties with the two US allies.
Biden and his U.S. allies may not have much leverage to try to slow testing or increase global sanctions to punish Pyongyang for its provocations. US pressure to isolate Russia over Vladimir Putin’s war in Ukraine, coupled with growing animosity toward China, has allowed Kim to bolster his nuclear deterrent without fear of facing further sanctions at the UN Security Council. the UN.
There is almost no chance that Russia or China, who have veto power in the Council, would support any action against North Korea, as they did in 2017 following a series of weapons testing that prompted then-President Donald Trump to warn of “fire and fury.” In late May, the two countries vetoed a US-drafted council resolution aimed at tightening sanctions against North Korea for its ballistic missile tests this year.
North Korea may also soon conduct a nuclear test, US, South Korean and Japanese government officials said at a meeting last week. North Korea is prohibited from testing ballistic missiles and nuclear devices by UN Security Council resolutions.
Kim has also found ways to evade sanctions through cybercrime and cryptocurrency theft. Investigators from the United States and the United Nations said his regime had already banked nearly $3 billion – or about 10% of its annual savings – from cybercrime, and was on the verge of more. harvest even more.
South Korea said the May 25 test included a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile that reached an altitude of about 540 kilometers and traveled a distance of about 360 kilometers. Weapons experts said North Korea also appeared to have launched a short-range ballistic missile with a maneuverable warhead as well as another rocket that failed shortly after takeoff. The ICBM is designed to carry a nuclear warhead capable of reaching the American continent.
(Updates with analyst comment, Japanese officials)
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