SEOUL (AFP) – North Korea yesterday tested its most powerful missile since 2017, ramping up the firepower for its record-breaking seventh launch this month as Seoul warned nuclear and long-range tests could be next.
Pyongyang has never test-fired this many missiles in a calendar month before and last week threatened to abandon a nearly five-year-long self-imposed moratorium on testing long-range and nuclear weapons, blaming United States (US) “hostile” policy for forcing its hand.
With peace talks with Washington stalled, North Korea has doubled-down on leader Kim Jong-un’s vow to modernise the regime’s armed forces, flexing Pyongyang’s military muscles despite biting international sanctions.
South Korea said yesterday that North Korea appeared to be following a “similar pattern” to 2017 – when tensions were last at breaking-point on the peninsula – warning Pyongyang could soon restart nuclear and intercontinental missile tests.
North Korea “has come close to destroying the moratorium declaration”, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said in a statement following an emergency meeting of Seoul’s National Security Council.
South Korea’s military said it had “detected an intermediate-range ballistic missile fired at a lofted angle eastward towards the East Sea.”
The missile was estimated to have hit a maximum altitude of 2,000 kilometres and flown around 800 kilometres for half an hour, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
A lofted trajectory involves missiles being fired at a high angle instead of out to their full range.
“North Korea did similar tests with its emerging medium and long range missile technology in 2017,” tweeted Chad O’Carroll of specialist website NK News.
“So this would imply today’s test involves one of those missile types – or potentially something new. In other words, a big deal.”
The last time Pyongyang tested an intermediate-range missile was the Hwasong-12 in 2017, which analysts said at the time was powerful enough to put the US territory of Guam in range.
Japan’s top government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno said yesterday that the ballistic missile “was one with intermediate-range or longer range.”