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N Korea conducts longest-range missile test since 2017

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff reported
that a projectile believed to be a single ballistic missile was launched about
7:52 am (2252 GMT) from North Korea’s Jagang Province toward the ocean off its
east coast.

South Korea’s National Security Council (NSC),
which convened a rare emergency meeting presided over by President Moon Jae-in,
said the test involved an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM), which
North Korea has not tested since 2017.

Moon said that with the launch, North Korea
was taking a step closer to fully scrapping a self-imposed moratorium on
testing nuclear weapons or its longest-range intercontinental ballistic
missiles (ICBMs).

He noted that this month’s flurry of missile
tests was reminiscent of the heightened tensions in 2017, when North Korea
conducted multiple nuclear tests and launched its largest missiles, including
some that flew over Japan.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has said he is
no longer bound by that moratorium, which was announced in 2018 amid a flurry
of diplomacy and summits with then-US President Donald Trump.

North Korea’s rulers suggested this month they
could restart those testing activities because the United States and its allies
had shown no sign of dropping their “hostile policies.”

BIGGER MISSILES

It is unclear if IRBMs were included in Kim’s
moratorium, but those, too, have not been tested since 2017.

South Korea’s JCS and Japanese Chief Cabinet
Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno separately said the missile is estimated to have
reached an altitude of 2,000km and flown for 30 minutes to a distance of 800km.
IRBMs typically have ranges of 600 to 3,500 miles, while ICBMs have ranges
exceeding 3,500 miles.

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Missile experts said the data could indicate a
test of an IRBM such as the Hwasong-12, which was last tested in 2017, or a new
type.

“Regardless of whether it’s a IRBM or
ICBM, this is a strategic missile of some sort and clearly not the same as the
prior tests in the January 2022 test series to date,” George William
Herbert, an adjunct professor at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies and a
missile consultant, said on Twitter.

The launch could make January the busiest ever
for North Korea’s missile programme, which analysts say is expanding and
developing new capabilities despite strict sanctions and United Nations
Security Council resolutions that ban the country’s ballistic missile tests.

Its latest launches included a test of two
short-range ballistic missiles and their warheads on Thursday, and an updated
long-range cruise missile system tested on Tuesday.

‘RAMPING UP TESTS’

The test comes less than a week before the
opening of the Winter Olympics in Beijing, which is North Korea’s main political
and economic partner. Pyongyang has said it would be skipping the Games because
of the COVID-19 pandemic and “hostile forces.”

“Kim seems to be ramping up tests in bid
to pressure both Washington and Beijing over sanctions just ahead of the
Olympics,” said Uk Yang, research fellow at Center for Foreign Policy and
National Security.

The tests would also appear to be the final
nail in the coffin for Moon’s last-ditch push for a peace deal with North Korea
before he leaves office in May, Uk added.

“It’s clear that North Korea is saying
inter-Korean relations will need to start from scratch,” he said.

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In an address ahead of the New Year, Kim Jong
Un called for bolstering the military with cutting-edge technology at a time
when talks with South Korea and the United States have stalled.

Since then, North Korea has tested a dizzying
array of weapon types, launch locations, and increasing sophistication.

Jagang Province was the site of two launches
this month of what North Korea said was a “hypersonic missile,” which
could reach high speeds while flying and maneuvering at relatively low
altitudes, but the ranges reported on Sunday were higher and farther than those
earlier tests.

From hypersonic missiles and long-range cruise
missiles to missiles launched from rail cars and airports, the tests highlight
the nuclear-armed state’s rapidly expanding and advancing arsenal amid stalled
denuclearisation talks.

“The ballistic missile launch and the
ones before it are a threat to our country, the region and the international
community,” Matsuno said. “This series of launches violate UN
resolutions and we strongly protest this action by North Korea.”

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