North Korea fires two short-range projectiles

Move seen as attempt to put pressure on US and gain upper hand ahead of fresh talks

A view shows the testing of a super-large multiple rocket launcher in North Korea, in this undated photo released on Sept 10, 2019. PHOTO: REUTERS

North Korea fired two short-range projectiles yesterday morning in what is seen as a move to ramp up pressure on the United States and strengthen its bargaining position ahead of new talks.

The projectiles were fired at around 7am local time (6am Singapore time) from Kaechon city north of Pyongyang and flew about 330km before landing in the sea.

South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said they were analysing what exactly was launched - a new type of missile or a rocket system that had been tested previously.

The launches - the 10th round this year - came hours after North Korean Vice-Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui expressed willingness to return to stalled nuclear talks with the US late this month, although she also demanded that Washington come up with a proposal acceptable to Pyongyang.

If not, their dealings "may come to an end", she said in a statement carried by the state-run Korean Central News Agency.

US President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House that he saw the "interesting" statement.

"We will see what happens, but I always say, having meetings is a good thing, not a bad thing," he added.

But experts said it would be tough to have fruitful talks if neither side is willing to change its position.

North Korea is pushing for a phased approach in nuclear disarmament with early rewards like sanctions relief and security guarantees, but the US insists that Pyongyang must completely denuclearise first.

The last summit between Mr Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un in Hanoi in February broke down after they failed to bridge the gap in their stances. Both sides have maintained they wish to remain in dialogue, and their leaders last met at the demilitarised zone between the two Koreas in June.

North Korea has been conducting a flurry of weapons tests since late July, including short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) capable of striking South Korea and Japan.

These are not condemned by Mr Trump, who maintains that testing SRBMs is not in violation of his deal with Mr Kim to not test intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that can reach the US mainland.

Dr Lee Seong-hyon of the Sejong Institute think-tank noted that Pyongyang is using the tactic of "provocation and dialogue" to gain an upper hand in the expected talks with Washington, even though the regime has yet to implement any denuclearisation measure.

He said North Korea is "proposing dialogue with the US by firing missiles", but Washington will find its words and actions contradictory.

"As long as North Korea uses the 'old tactic', Washington will find it hard to trust North Korea," Dr Lee told The Straits Times.

While acknowledging the Kim regime's right to test weapons for self-defence, Washington has also issued warnings for the North not to go overboard. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said on Sunday that Mr Trump would be very disappointed if North Korea does not return to the negotiating table or conducts missile tests in violation of their previous agreements.

Dr Shin Beom-chul of the Asan Institute for Policy Studies think-tank said North Korea has been conducting tests for the dual purpose of improving its weapons systems and sending the implicit message that "the next one could be an ICBM".

"However, North Korea fears that it is giving the impression that it is refusing to talk with the US - that is why Choe said they are willing to return to dialogue," he told The Straits Times.

10 projectiles in 4 months

May 4
North Korea fired several short-range projectiles from the eastern port city of Wonsan for the first time since the February summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump in Hanoi failed to reach any agreement. State media reported that Mr Kim personally supervised the so-called "strike drill" to test large-calibre long-range multiple rocket launchers and tactical guided weapons.

May 9
North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM) from the Sinori area in the North Pyongan Province.

July 25
North Korea fired two SRBMs from Wonsan. Both were said to be the new KN-23, which looks like the Russian Iskander missile.

July 31
North Korea launched two SRBMs from the Kalma area near Wonsan.

Aug 2
North Korea fired two tactical guided missiles from its South Hamgyong Province. Mr Kim described them as a warning to the US and South Korea, which
were in the midst of a joint military drill. But Mr Trump told reporters he was not worried, as the missiles were short-range and "very standard".

Aug 6
North Korea launched two missiles from Hamheung area.

Aug 10
North Korea fired two SRBMs from its eastern cost. Experts said the system resembled the US Army Tactical Missile System. Mr Trump said Mr Kim sent him a letter
apologising for the spate of missile tests and expressing a willingness to resume talks after the end of the joint military exercises.

Aug 16
North Korea launched two SRBMs from northeastern Kangwon province.

Aug 24
North Korea tested what it called a "super-large multiple rocket" system from Sondok in South Hamgyong Province, even though US-South Korea drills had ended on Aug 17.

Sept 10
North Korea launched two projectiles from Kaechon city north of Pyongyang.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 11, 2019, with the headline North Korea fires two short-range projectiles. Subscribe