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North Korea fires off 2 suspected short-range ballistic missiles

North Korean missile splashed down inside Japan's Exclusive Economic Zone (DoD/Released)
March 21, 2020

North Korea launched what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off the east coast of the Korean peninsula.

The launch occurred at around 6:45 a.m. Korean Standard Time, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said. According to CNBC those South Korean military officials called the action “highly inappropriate” in light of ongoing global concerns around coronavirus.

“Such military action by North Korea is highly inappropriate at a time when COVID-19 is causing difficulties worldwide,” the JCS said, and called for an “immediate stop.”

The suspected missiles were fired from the east coast near Sonchon, North Pyongan province.

The latest missile launch incident is the third set of missile tests for the month of March alone. North Korea launched two missiles in a March 2 incident and three more projectiles on March 9. The string of apparent missile tests come as North Korea appears to have returned to missile tests not seen since November.

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Last year, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un imposed a 2019 year end deadline for the U.S. and North Korea to reach a nuclear deal. North Korea carried out several missile tests throughout the 2019, as denuclearization talks with U.S. President Donald Trump became strained.

Kim indicated in a December statement that he had abandoned hopes of an agreement with the U.S. and did not feel obligated to abide by his own moratorium on nuclear weapons testing, which he adopted at the start of nuclear negotiations with U.S. President Donald Trump. Kim also indicated in December that the world would see a new strategic weapon “in the near future.”

Some observers believe the latest launches are also meant as a show of strength while the international community is preoccupied with the global coronavirus pandemic.

The new launch comes hours after North Korea announced a session of its legislative body, the Supreme People’s Assembly. The assembly would see nearly 700 lawmakers gathered together in place, even as many countries are advising people to limit large group interactions to slow the potential spread of the coronavirus.

“Not only does Pyongyang wish to avoid signs of weakness during the coronavirus crisis, it wants its people to believe that North Korea stands in a position of relative strength,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, told CNBC. “Kim can improve military capabilities … at little cost because international aid is unlikely to be cancelled after these tests, China and Russia refuse to tighten sanctions, and the U.S. and South Korea are focused on defense cost-sharing negotiations and COVID-19.”