SEOUL (AFP, REUTERS) - North Korea fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) on Saturday (May 7), Seoul said, its second missile launch in three days, after the United States warned Pyongyang could be preparing for a nuclear test.
Pyongyang has dramatically ramped up its sanctions-busting missile launches this year, conducting 15 weapons tests since January including firing an intercontinental ballistic missile at full range for the first time since 2017.
“Our military detected around 14:07 (0507 GMT) a short-range ballistic missile presumed to be an SLBM fired from waters off Sinpo, South Hamgyong,” Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement.
The missile flew 600km at a maximum altitude of 60km, the JCS added, a distance that indicates it was a short-range ballistic missile.
It landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Tokyo’s Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said.
Pyongyang’s “remarkable development of nuclear and missile-related technology” is a regional and global security risk, he said, adding that Japan also believed “North Korea will be ready to carry out a nuclear test as early as this month”.
Seeking ‘upper hand’
Pyongyang is “preparing its Punggye-ri test site and could be ready to test there as early as this month”, the US State Department said on Friday.
On Saturday, the US condemned the latest launch as a threat to North Korea’s neighbours and the world.
A spokesman for the US State Department said Washington’s commitment to defending South Korea and Japan “remains ironclad”.
“Recent launches show strategic intent to claim the upper hand with the new Seoul government,” especially before Biden’s visit, he said.
North Korea carried out six nuclear tests before embarking on a bout of high-profile diplomacy with the US in 2018 and 2019, with former president Donald Trump meeting four times with Mr Kim before talks collapsed. Diplomacy has since languished.
Repeated negotiations aimed at convincing Mr Kim to give up his nuclear weapons have come to nothing.
“Instead of accepting invitations to dialogue, the Kim regime appears to be preparing a tactical nuclear warhead test,” said Prof Leif-Eric Easley at the Ewha University in Seoul.
“A seventh nuclear test would be the first since September 2017 and raise tensions on the Korean peninsula, increasing dangers of miscalculation and miscommunication between the Kim regime and the incoming Yoon administration,” Prof Easley added.
South Korea’s conventional military capacity outstrips that of the North, and Mr Yoon has called for more US military assets to be deployed in the South, a topic likely to be on the agenda when Mr Biden visits Seoul.
For five years under President Moon Jae-in, Seoul has pursued a policy of engagement with Pyongyang. But for incoming leader Yoon, this “subservient” approach has been a manifest failure.