North Korea tested three new short-range weapons on Monday, continuing its return to weapons tests which the country began last week.
North Korea conducted its weapons tests near the coastal town of Sondok, which has been the site of previous launches carried out last year. The weapons, including some fired from a multiple-launch rocket system (MLRS), reached up to 50 km in altitude and flew around 200 km before landing in the sea, Reuters reported.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the new launches appear to be part of ongoing live-fire drills which began near the end of February and are being overseen by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
“The ministers once again pointed out that the continued firing drills are unhelpful for efforts to build lasting peace on the Korean peninsula,” the South Korean presidential Blue House said in a statement following meetings between South Korea’s national security adviser, Chung Eui-yong, and the defense minister and the intelligence chief of the country.
North Korea had previously stopped firing missiles and rockets for nearly three months as it called for a 2019 year-end deadline for the U.S. to prepare a denuclearization agreement. South Korea’s JCS reportedly expressed “strong regret” over the new weapons tests.
Japanese Defense Minister Taro Kono said the projectiles, which appeared to be ballistic missiles, did not fall inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, though the Japanese government is still discerning information from the new launch.
Chinese officials urged all parties to return to negotiations and to be flexible in discussing denuclearization with North Korea and an overall peace process.
“We also urge parties to make positive efforts to calm the situation for talks to continue, and to realise the denuclearisation and lasting peace in this region and the peninsula,” China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said in a briefing.
Prior to the newest launch, Britain, Germany, France, Estonia and Belgium all raised issue with North Korea’s previous launches on March 1, calling them provocative actions that violated U.N. resolutions. According to Politico, North Korea’s foreign ministry, in turn, said the previous weapons tests were not meant to threaten anyone but “the reckless behavior of these countries instigated by the U.S. will become a fuse that will trigger our yet another momentous reaction.”
North Korea offered the statement just prior to the new weapons tests on Monday.
Negotiations with North Korea appear to have stalled since the 2019 year-end deadline. Talks have been complicated by other international events such as the ongoing coronavirus outbreak, in which South Korea has been heavily impacted by the disease’ spread and North Korea has closed its borders to slow the spread of the disease.