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North Korea fires 2 ballistic missiles — its fourth launch in January

A North Korean missile launch.(DoD/Released)

North Korea test-launched two suspected ballistic missiles Monday in its fourth rocket volley this year, turning up regional tensions with its biggest string of tests since August 2019.

South Korea’s military said North Korea fired what appeared to be two ballistic missiles toward waters off its east coast. Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters in Tokyo that North Korea appeared to have fired two suspected ballistic missile eastward that splashed down in waters outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone. Further details were not immediately available and North Korea typically doesn’t comment on its launches until a day after the fact.

The tests come after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un told a top-level meeting of his ruling party at the end of 2021 that he was more interested in bolstering his arsenal than returning to nuclear disarmament talks with the U.S., which have been stalled for nearly three years.

While Kim has stayed away from such talks, he has steadily been increasing his nuclear arsenal, testing new systems for quick-strikes and that can maneuver in flight to avoid U.S.-operated interceptors in the region. These have included long-range cruise missiles that could hit almost all of Japan and a new submarine-launched.

North Korea has also resumed plutonium-producing operations at its main Yongbyon nuclear site, while satellite imagery shows it expanding a plant that enriches uranium for weapons.

This month, his state has had two separate launches of a hypersonic missile systems designed to use high speeds and maneuverability to evade U.S-operated interceptors. Pyongyang said it fired two tactical guided missiles from rail carriages Friday.

Before that launch, North Korea warned it would take a “stronger and certain reaction” after the U.S. sanctioned individuals associated with Pyongyang’s weapons program, saying tests this month of its hypersonic missile system were part of its “legitimate right” to enhance its self-defense.

North Korea last conducted a larger series of tests when it was rolling out new solid-fuel, short-range ballistic missiles designed to modernize its arsenal and deliver nuclear warheads to U.S. military bases in all of South Korea.

Kim’s regime has also found ways to evade sanctions, with the U.S. and United Nations Security Council accusing it of stepping up its cybercrimes to fill its depleted coffers.

The North Korean leader is facing one of the most difficult periods during his decade in power. Sanctions have helped push his economy to its smallest since he took charge and his decision to close borders about two years ago due to the coronavirus slammed the brakes on the little trade he had.

North Korea’s hacker army launched at least seven attacks on cryptocurrency platforms in 2021 that menaced global players and netted the reclusive state almost $400 million worth of digital assets, a report from blockchain research firm Chainalysis said. The amount reported by the research group would likely be equivalent to more than 10% of its annual military budget.

In what might be a sign of opening, North Korea appears to have sent a freight train across its border to China over the weekend, which could be returning later Monday with cargo, NK News reported, citing an informed source. Yonhap News Agency reported the train has crossed back into North Korea, citing unnamed sources.

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