North Korea launches missile test as tensions rise with US


SEOUL – North Korea tested two short-range cruise missiles over the weekend, South Korean defense officials confirmed on Wednesday, adding to a string of provocations and statements in recent weeks that experts are calling warnings in Washington.

The test took place off the west coast of North Korea on Sunday, just days after the country accused the United States and South Korea of ​​raising “a stench” in the Korean Peninsula with their exercises. annual military. He did not violate United Nations resolutions, which prohibit North Korea from developing or testing ballistic missile technology. It did, however, mark the country’s first missile test since President Biden took office in January.

When North Korea launches missile tests, they are usually celebrated by state media and quickly confirmed by the South Korean military. But North Korean media did not report on Sunday’s test. South Korean officials said on Wednesday they detected the test as it took place, but decided not to report it immediately. They did not specify their decision.

South Korean defense officials tend to view short-range cruise missile tests as less of a provocation than ballistic launches. They also tend not to stress what they see as minor provocations from the North when trying to promote inter-Korean dialogue. Sill, when North Korea launched short-range cruise missiles off its east coast in April last year, they were quickly confirmed by South Korea. In this case, South Korean officials only confirmed the test after it was first reported by the Washington Post.

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The missiles were launched from a site near Nampo, a port southwest of the North Korean capital Pyongyang, at 6:36 a.m. Sunday, said Ha Tae-keung, a South Korean lawmaker who was briefed by officials. intelligence on Wednesday. Intelligence officials said South Korean military officials agreed with their US counterparts not to make the tests public, according to Ha.

South Korea and the United States completed their annual 10-day military exercises last week. North Korea has generally responded to these exercises by conducting its own exercises, which sometimes involve missile testing.

Officials and analysts in the region are watching North Korea closely to see if the country escalates tensions to gain leverage before possible negotiations with the Biden administration.

North Korea has rejected any serious dialogue with Washington since the second summit between its leader, Kim Jong-un, and former President Donald J. Trump abruptly ended in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2019. Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump failed to come to an agreement on how quickly the North would dismantle its nuclear program or when Washington would ease sanctions.

Pyongyang has made several hostile statements towards the United States in recent days, and analysts have said the missile test could be part of a subtle pressure tactic, raising the possibility of North Korea returning to a new round of tensions in the peninsula to obtain concessions. from Washington.

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“Pyongyang, through these new missile tests, is signaling to Team Biden that its military capabilities will continue to become more powerful day by day,” Harry J. Kazianis, senior director of Korean studies at the Center for the National Interest based in Washington. , said in an emailed comment.

The Biden administration has stepped up efforts to work more closely with its regional allies, South Korea and Japan, to better manage North Korea’s growing weapons capabilities, as well as the burgeoning China. Secretary Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III visited Seoul and Tokyo last week as part of the administration’s first high-level diplomatic visit to Asia.

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President Biden plans to complete a review of North Korea’s policy in the coming weeks in close coordination with South Korea and Japan, Blinken said in Seoul. He said the review included both “pressure options and potential for future diplomacy.” During his visit, Mr. Blinken also criticized North Korea’s human rights record and what he called Mr. Kim’s “repressive government” and its “widespread and systematic abuses”.

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Washington made a breakthrough last week when a North Korean citizen was extradited to the United States for the first time. A Malaysian court has agreed to extradite the North Korean businessman, who is set to stand trial in a US court for money laundering and violation of international sanctions. North Korea accused Washington of being a “behind-the-scenes manipulator” of the affair and warned it “would pay the price.”

He also said he didn’t feel the need to respond to the Biden administration’s recent attempts to establish a dialogue, dismissing them as a “time-delay trick.”

As Washington strengthens its alliances with Tokyo and Seoul, Mr. Kim and Xi Jinping, the Chinese leader, have vowed to bring their two communist countries closer together.

In a message to Xi reported in North Korean media this week, Kim stressed the need to strengthen unity between the two countries in order to “face hostile forces.” In his own message to Kim, Xi pledged to help preserve “peace and stability” on the Korean Peninsula.

North Korea’s latest missile test suggests that Mr Kim “will tolerate continued economic dependence on China in order to emerge from the pandemic offensive against Washington and Seoul,” Leif-Eric Easley said , professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

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