By Brad Lendon, Emiko Jozuka, Yoonjung Seo and Gawon Bae, CNN
North Korea launched a ballistic missile off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula on Sunday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
The missile was fired from the Sunan area of North Korea at around 7.52 a.m. local time, the Joint Chiefs said.
Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said North Korea launched “at least one ballistic missile,” that flew a distance of 300 kilometers (186 miles) and to a maximum altitude of 600 kilometers (373 miles).
Sunday’s missile firing is Pyongyang’s first since January 30 local time, when it fired what it claimed was a Hwasong-12 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), its longest range ballistic missile since 2017. Sunday’s test was of a missile of shorter range than that test, according to the estimates provided by Japan.
South Korea’s National Security Council (NSC) said the launch was “undesirable” for peace stabilization while the world is trying to resolve the Ukraine war, according to the Blue House, South Korean presidential office.
NSC also expressed “deep concern and severe regret” over the launch, which marks the eighth missile test this year, and urged the North to “immediately stop actions contrary to peaceful resolution through diplomacy.”
The newest launch comes less than two weeks ahead of the South Korea presidential election on March 9, in which North Korea is likely to be a key electoral issue. If conservative candidate Yoon Suk Yeol is successful, analysts expect him to take a much harder line against the North compared to current President Moon Jae-in.
Ramping up missile testing
North Korea has ramped up its missile testing in 2022, announcing plans to bolster its defenses against the United States and evaluate “restarting all temporally suspended activities,” according to state media.
In the first four weeks of 2022 alone, North Korea launched seven missile tests, but none of those were of its longest range missiles.
During the Trump presidency, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un tested intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM) that could theoretically reach continental US, leveraging those tests into meetings with the then US President. Last year, during US President Joe Biden’s first in office, North Korea staged eight tests — none in the range of an ICBM.
Analysts suggest the increased testing this year shows Kim is both striving to meet domestic goals and show an increasingly turbulent world that Pyongyang remains a player in the struggle for power and influence.
“North Korea is not going to do anyone the favor of staying quiet while the world deals with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine,” Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha University in Seoul, said following Sunday’s test.
“Pyongyang has an ambitious schedule of military modernization. The Kim regime’s strength and legitimacy have become tied to testing ever better missiles.”
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