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According to the South Korean military, North Korea launched two suspected ballistic missiles into the sea on Thursday, marking the country’s sixth round of weapon launches this month.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea said the weapons were launched from an eastern coastal area, but it didn’t say how far they flew.
North Korea has increased its nuclear testing in recent months, ostensibly to put pressure on the Biden administration in the midst of long-stalled nuclear talks.
The renewed pressure comes as the pandemic wreaks havoc on North Korea’s economy, which has already been crushed by crushing US-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons programme, as well as decades of mismanagement by its own regime.
Last week, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un issued a veiled warning to resume testing of nuclear weapons and long-range missiles aimed at the American heartland, which he had postponed in 2018 while pursuing negotiation with the US.
Disagreements over sanctions relief and denuclearization interrupted Kim’s high-stakes summitry with former President Donald Trump in 2019.
According to some observers, North Korea’s weapons demonstrations could skyrocket following the Winter Olympics, which begin Feb. 4 in China, the North’s major ally and economic lifeline.
Pyongyang’s leadership, they say, believes it can use a dramatic provocation to sway the Biden administration, which has been focused with larger enemies such as China and Russia.
The Biden administration has proposed open-ended negotiations but has indicated that sanctions will not be eased unless Kim takes concrete steps to surrender the nuclear weapons and missiles that he regards as his best hope for survival.
Since last fall, the North has increased its testing activity, showcasing a variety of missiles and delivery methods that appear to be tailored to overcome regional missile defence systems.
Experts believe Kim is attempting to put greater pressure on rivals Washington and Seoul to recognise it as a nuclear state in the hopes of avoiding economic sanctions and converting diplomacy with Washington into reciprocal arms-reduction talks.
The launch happened two days after the South Korean military discovered the North conducting a flight test of two suspected cruise missiles in an unidentified inland area.
North Korea kicked off 2022 with two test launches of a rumoured hypersonic missile, which Kim described as an asset that would significantly reinforce his nuclear “war deterrent.”
This month, the North also tested two distinct types of short-range ballistic missiles it has been developing since 2019 that are designed to be agile and fly at low altitudes, potentially improving their chances of avoiding and defeating missile defence systems, according to experts.