SEOUL, South Korea – North Korea said on Friday it had tested a new anti-aircraft missile, its fourth weapons launch in recent weeks, which experts say is part of a strategy to secure economic sanctions relief and to obtain other concessions.
South Korea, Japan and the United States generally publicly confirm North Korean ballistic missile launches, which are banned by UN resolutions, soon after they occur. But they did not do so for Thursday’s launch, indicating that the weapon tested may have been of a different type. Seoul Joint Chiefs of Staff said on Friday that South Korean and US intelligence authorities were monitoring the actions taken by North Korea but had not given details.
Three weeks ago, North Korea resumed missile testing after a six-month lull. As it has sometimes done before, North Korea combined the show of force with a more conciliatory gesture, offering earlier this week to reactivate the hotlines that North and South Korea use to organize meetings, organize meetings. border crossings and avoid accidental clashes.
Diplomacy aimed at getting North Korea to give up its nuclear arsenal in exchange for economic and political rewards has largely stalled since early 2019. This has left North Korea under crippling state-led economic sanctions. United at a time when its fragile economy is suffering massive setbacks due to the coronavirus pandemic. The latest moves by North Korea appear to be aimed at putting pressure on South Korea, which wants to improve strained relations with the peninsula, to persuade the United States to relax sanctions.
On Friday, the North Korean Central News Agency said the anti-aircraft missile test was “of very practical importance for the study and development of various potential anti-aircraft missile systems.”
Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the Seoul University of North Korean Studies, said the launch appears to be the primitive stage of a test to develop a missile designed to shoot down incoming enemy missiles and planes. He said the missile resembles the Russian-made S-400 air defense system, which he says has a maximum range of 400 kilometers (250 miles) and would be capable of intercepting stealth jets.
The UN Security Council received a briefing on recent launches and the humanitarian and COVID-19 situations in North Korea during an emergency closed-door meeting on Friday, but took no action.
While the United States, Britain, France and other council members raised the risks posed by the tests, China said an agreement between the United States and the United Kingdom to provide nuclear-powered submarines in Australia posed a danger to the region, diplomats said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the talks were private.
France then released a proposed declaration which diplomats say expresses concern over missile launches and calls on North Korea to fully implement UN Security Council resolutions banning ballistic missile launches. But Russia and China did not see fit for a council statement, diplomats said, so its approval remains uncertain.
Earlier this week, in his government’s latest mixed signal, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un expressed willingness to re-establish direct lines of communication with South Korea in the coming days, but he also ignored the offers. American dialogue as a “clever” cover-up of its hostility against North Korea. He also insisted that South Korea abandon its “double-handed attitude” if it wants to see an improvement in Korean relations. His comments largely echoed the demands of his powerful sister Kim Yo Jong, who has taken the lead in the ongoing lobbying campaign in the North.
South Korea has said it will prepare for the restoration of cross-border telephone and fax lines, which have largely been idle for more than a year. But on Friday afternoon, North Korea remained insensitive to South Korea’s attempt to exchange messages through the channels, according to Seoul’s Unification Ministry, which manages relations with the North.
In an Armed Forces Day ceremony on Friday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in vowed to repel any attempt to threaten the lives of his people and strive for lasting peace. He did not mention North Korea’s recent tests in a possible effort to keep the possibility of talks between the Koreas alive.
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said on Friday that U.S. officials are still evaluating the most recent missile launch. She said officials in the Biden administration have made efforts to contact North Korea to spur talks, but have not received a response.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters on Thursday that Washington “certainly supports” the inter-Korean dialogue in principle. But he said the United States was concerned about North Korea’s recent launches, which he said violated UN Security Council resolutions and created “greater prospects for instability and insecurity”.
Among the weapons North Korea tested in September included a hypersonic missile, a newly developed cruise missile and a ballistic missile launched from a train. The South Korean military considered the hypersonic missile to be in an early stage of development, but experts say other weapons have shown North Korea’s ability to attack targets in South Korea and Japan, key US allies hosting US troops. Earlier this week, the US Indo-Pacific Command said its commitment to the defense of South Korea and Japan “remains foolproof.”
North Korea has not tested a long-range missile capable of reaching the Americas for about four years – which experts see as an indication that it is carefully calibrating its provocations to maintain its diplomatic chances.