North Korea has carried out launches of two new short-range missiles Monday morning.
South Korean officials reportedly detected the new launches near the North Korean port town of Wonsan. The missiles were originally reported as “unidentified projectiles” but Wall Street Journal and Reuters later reported them as “short-range missiles” citing South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS).
The launches took place on North Korea’s east coast near the town of Wonsan, where other launches have occurred. The missiles flew 22 miles high and for a distance of 149 miles before landing into the sea between South Korea and Japan.
According to the New York Times, the launch may be part of other North Korean military drills which began on Friday.
“This kind of act by North Korea does not help efforts to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” a South Korean military statement said. “We once again urge the North to immediately stop it.”
The launch would appear to be the first weapons test in three months, after North Korea fired two rockets on Nov. 28. Last year, the North Koreans imposed a 2019 year-end deadline for the U.S. to decide on a nuclear deal.
North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-Un, 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.”
As the year-end deadline approached, North Korean officials also issued veiled threats that the U.S. would choose its “Christmas gift” based on whether it met North Korea’s demands for a nuclear deal by year’s end.
The new military drills and weapons test was set to coincide with the one year anniversary of failed talks between Kim and Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam. The Hanoi summit reportedly broke down over disagreements as to how quickly North Korea would denuclearize and how soon the U.S. would begin to ease sanctions against North Korea.
The new weapons launch also comes as Kim has imposed a nationwide lockdown to stop the ongoing coronavirus outbreak from spreading within North Korea. The U.S. and South Korea had also planned a joint military drills but recently canceled due to the continued coronavirus spread in South Korea, which has seen some of the most cases for any country besides China.
The North Korean launches could also raise political stakes in South Korea, whose parliamentary elections are set to take place in April.
“North Korea is making clear with these missile tests it will continue to improve military capabilities and make outsized demands despite the political and public health preoccupations of Beijing, Seoul and Washington,” Leif-Eric Easly, a professor of international studies at Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul told the New York Times.