By John Ikani
North Korea conducted what could be its longest-range missile test since 2017 on Sunday, analysts said, after Japan and South Korea reported a suspected ballistic missile had been launched into the sea from the country’s east coast.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that a projectile believed to be a single ballistic missile was launched at about 7:52am (22:52 GMT) from North Korea’s Jagang Province towards the sea.
The Japanese and South Korean militaries said the missile launched on Sunday travelled on a lofted trajectory, apparently to avoid the territorial spaces of neighbours, and reached a maximum altitude of 2,000km (1,242 miles) and travelled 800km (497 miles) before landing in the sea.
The flight details suggest North Korea tested its longest-range ballistic missile since 2017, when it twice flew intermediate-range ballistic missiles (IRBMs) over Japan and separately flight-tested three intercontinental-range ballistic missiles (ICBMs) that demonstrated the potential range to reach deep into the American homeland.
Sunday’s test was North Korea’s seventh round of weapons launches this month. The unusually fast pace of tests indicates its intent to pressure the Biden administration over long-stalled nuclear negotiations as pandemic-related difficulties unleash further shock on an economy broken by decades of mismanagement and crippling US-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons program.
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 Sunday that the ballistic missile “was one with intermediate-range or longer range.”
The United States condemned the launch, with a State Department spokesperson telling Yonhap news agency it was a “clear violation” of multiple UN resolutions.
Nuclear-armed North Korea is banned from testing ballistic missiles under United Nations sanctions, which have also squeezed its economy.
Talks on denuclearisation have been stalled since the collapse of the summit between Kim and then United States President Donald Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam, in 2019 on Kim’s demand for sanctions relief.
Earlier in January, Pyongyang opened its border with China, a crucial trading partner, for the first time since the start of the coronavirus pandemic amid reports of rising food prices and hunger.