SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea on Sunday launched a suspected ballistic missile into the sea, South Korean and Japanese officials said, in an apparent resumption of its weapons tests following the end of the Winter Olympics in China, the North’s last major ally and economic pipeline.
The launch was the eighth of its kind this year. Some experts have said North Korea is trying to perfect its weapons technology and pressure the United States into offering concessions like sanctions relief amid long-stalled disarmament talks. They say North Korea also might use the U.S. preoccupation with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine as a chance to accelerate testing activity to ramp up its pressure campaign on Washington.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement it had detected what appeared to be a ballistic missile launch from the North’s capital area. It said the weapon was fired toward North Korea’s eastern waters but gave no further details including how far and high it flew. The statement said South Korea’s military maintained its readiness for additional launches by North Korea.
South Korea’s presidential office separately said it plans to hold an emergency national security council meeting Sunday to discuss the North Korean launch.
Japan’s Defense Ministry said North Korea launched a possible ballistic missile.
A maritime safety warning from Japan’s Coast Guard said “an object possibly ballistic missile” was launched from North Korea and that it probably landed in the sea. Vessels in the area were warned to stay away from objects that may have fallen from the sky and to report them to authorities.
“We have raised concern that the development in Ukraine could go beyond Europe and affect the rest of the world, especially the Indo-Pacific and East Asia,” Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said on NHK television. “We have not analyzed how (this morning’s) missile firing is related or intended, but I renewed my determination on the need to prepare firmly for a development like this.”
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said the Biden administration needs to show it maintains a strategic focus on the Indo-Pacific, including by responding sternly to Pyongyang’s provocations.
“North Korea is not going to do anyone the favor of staying quiet while the world deals with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” Easley said. “Pyongyang has an ambitious schedule of military modernization. The Kim regime’s strength and legitimacy have become tied to testing ever better missiles.”
North Korea last month conducted seven rounds of missile tests, a record number of monthly weapons tests since leader Kim Jong Un took power in late 2011. North Korea halted testing activity after the start of the Winter Olympics earlier this month. Some experts had predicted North Korea would resume tests and possibly launch bigger weapons after the Olympics.
Kim sent a message to Chinese President Xi Jinping after the Olympics calling for further consolidating bilateral ties “into the invincible one” in the face of what he called “the undisguised hostile policy and military threat of the U.S. and its satellite forces.”
Xi replied to Kim last week, saying China is ready to strengthen bilateral ties, according to North Korea’s state media.
U.S.-led diplomacy aimed at convincing North Korea to give up its nuclear program in return for economic and political rewards collapsed in early 2019 when then President Donald Trump rejected Kim’s calls for extensive sanctions relief in exchange for limited denuclearization steps during their second summit in Vietnam.
U.S. officials have since repeatedly called for the resumption of talks without preconditions, but Pyongyang has said it won’t return to the negotiating table unless Washington ends its hostility toward North Korea.