North Korea launches two short-range missiles, South Korea says

Country’s first weapons test in three months after lockdown to halt spread of coronavirus

A man watches a news report on the  firing of two unidentified projectiles, in Seoul, South Korea. Photograph: Heo Ran/Reuters

A man watches a news report on the firing of two unidentified projectiles, in Seoul, South Korea. Photograph: Heo Ran/Reuters


North Korea launched two short-range projectiles off its east coast on Monday in the country’s first weapons test in three months, the South Korean military said.

The projectiles were launched near Wonsan, a port town east of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, South Korean military officials said. They flew 240km before landing in the waters between North Korea and Japan, the officials said, adding that they were analysing data to determine the type of projectiles used in the launch.

South Korean officials said the launch on Monday appeared to be part of a military drill North Korea began on Friday. “This kind of act by North Korea does not help efforts to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” the South Korean military said in a statement. “We once again urge the North to immediately stop it.”

In its previous weapons test on November 28th, North Korea launched two rockets from its east coast, firings that were overseen by the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un.

South Korea later said the two short-range projectiles were fired from what North Korea called a “super-large multiple rocket launcher”, a new weapon the North had developed to target South Korean and US military bases farther from North Korea’s border with the South.

But North Korea had been refraining from any weapons tests since Mr Kim told a meeting at the end of December that he had all but abandoned hopes for diplomacy with Washington and ordered his country to brace for a prolonged stand-off with the United States and endure sanctions.

In that meeting, Mr Kim also said his country no longer felt bound by its self-imposed moratorium on testing nuclear weapons and long-range ballistic missiles and that the world would witness a new strategic weapon “in the near future”.

Mr Kim has also been keeping himself largely from public view as he locked his country down to prevent the spread of the coronavirus outbreak from neighbouring China. On Friday, he appeared to resume his public activities, inspecting a joint strike drill of units of the North Korean People’s Army, according to the state-run media.

Trump summit

The military drill coincided with the anniversary of Mr Kim’s summit last year with US president Donald Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam. The summit collapsed over differences over how fast North Korea would roll back its nuclear weapons programme and when Washington should ease sanctions.

The Monday launch came three days after Mr Kim fired one of his closest aides for corruption during a meeting of the Political Bureau of his Workers’ Party. The meeting focused on “enforcing top-class anti-epidemic measures to contain the viral epidemic spreading rapidly across the world”, although the North itself has not reported any cases of the new coronavirus.

During the meeting, Mr Kim excoriated “abuse of power, practices of privileges, indulgence in bureaucracy, corruption and irregularities” among senior officials of the party’s central committee and at the party’s cadre-training centre.

Then, the rubber-stamp political bureau dismissed Ri Man-gon and Pak Thae-dok from the posts of vice-chairmen of the central committee, it said.

Mr Ri was one of the most prominent North Korean officials to fall out of Mr Kim’s favour in recent years. As vice-chairman of the central committee, Mr Ri has helped Mr Kim in monitoring the loyalty of the party elites and helping Mr Kim decide whom to promote or demote.

Mr Ri has also led the party’s powerful department of organisation and guidance, which does the same work.

The North’s latest launch, the first in three months, came at a time when South Korea was grappling with an explosive outbreak of the coronavirus, with more than 4,000 cases, the largest number outside China.

North Korea’s first weapons test this year came days after the US and South Korea postponed their joint annual military drills, originally scheduled for this month, because of the coronavirus outbreak. - New York Times