North Korea conducted its largest missile test since 2017 on Sunday, sending a suspected intermediate-range ballistic missile soaring into space, seen as taking the nuclear-armed country a step closer to resuming long-range testing.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that a projectile believed to be a single ballistic missile was launched about 7:52am from North Korea’s Jagang Province toward the ocean off its east coast.
South Korea’s National Security Council (NSC), which convened a rare emergency meeting presided over by President Moon Jae-in, said the test appeared to involve an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), which North Korea has not tested since 2017.
The launch takes North Korea a step closer to fully scrapping a self-imposed moratorium on testing its longest-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), Moon said.
He noted that this month’s flurry of missile tests was reminiscent of the heightened tensions in 2017, when North Korea conducted multiple nuclear tests and launched its largest missiles, including some that flew over Japan.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has said he is no longer bound by that moratorium, which included a stop to nuclear weapons tests and was announced in 2018 amid a flurry of diplomacy and summits with then-U.S. President Donald Trump.
North Korea’s rulers suggested this month they could restart those testing activities because the United States and its allies had shown no sign of dropping their “hostile policies.”
“The United States condemns these actions and calls on (North Korea) to refrain from further destabilizing acts,” the U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement after Sunday’s launch.
A U.S. State Department spokesperson said the launch demonstrates the threat posed by North Korea’s unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programmes, and called on Pyongyang to engage in “sustained and substantive” dialogue.
The missile is estimated to have reached an altitude of 2,000km and flown for 30 minutes to a distance of 800km. IRBMs typically have ranges of 600 to 3,500 miles, while ICBMs have ranges exceeding 3,500 miles.
The launch could make January the busiest ever for North Korea’s missile programme, which analysts say is expanding and developing new capabilities despite strict sanctions.
Kim visited a munitions factory last week, where he called for “an all-out drive” to produce “powerful cutting-edge arms,” and its workers touted his devotion to “smashing … the challenges of the U.S. imperialists and their vassal forces” seeking to violate their right to self-defence.