Update: South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff has confirmed that the North appears to have fired two short-range ballistic missiles at 4:29 pm and at 4:49 pm local time.
- First missile flew about 420km; second flew 270km
- South Korean military is strengthening monitoring in case of more launches
For the second time in just under a week, North Korea has fired at least one “unidentified projectile”, according to South Korean military sources cited by American media.
According to CNN, the launch occurred at 4:30 pm local time on Thursday. The projectiles were launched from a missile facility in the Sino-ri area, situated in one of the North’s western provinces. The launch site was about 50 miles northwest of Pyongyang.
The launch of the short-range ‘projectiles’ followed Saturday morning’s launch of short-range missiles that analysts said resembled the Russian Iskander-class ballistic missiles.
Sino-ri is home to about one of an estimated 20 undeclared North Korean missile bases.
Analysts quoted in the New York Times warned that the ‘projectiles’ fired by North Korea on Thursday might be capable of carrying nuclear warheads.
The North’s missile base in Sino-ri is believed to operate Rodong short- and medium-range ballistic missiles. Some Western missile experts say the Sino-ri base may have played a role in the development of the North’s Pukguksong-2 ballistic missile, which was first tested in February 2017. Unlike most of the North Korean ballistic missiles, the Pukguksong-2 uses solid fuel, making it easier to transport and hide and faster to launch.
“The Sino-ri missile operating base and the Rodong missiles deployed at this location fit into North Korea’s presumed nuclear military strategy by providing an operational-level nuclear or conventional first-strike capability against targets located both throughout the Korean Peninsula and in most of Japan,” analysts of the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank, said in a paper in January.
Others had warned earlier this week that North Korea’s previous launch – its first missile launch since late 2017 – appeared to be an act of frustration, and stopped just short of violating Kim’s promise to the US. The series of provocative short-range missile launches are happening just weeks after talks between Kim and President Trump collapsed during a second US-NK summit. Also notable: Thursday’s launch was carried out while Stephen Biegun, President Trump’s point man on North Korea, was in Seoul for talks with South Korean officials on how to bring North Korea back to the negotiating table.
But with trade-war tensions between Washington and Beijing at a breaking point, we can’t help but wonder if Kim got ‘the tap’ from his Chinese benefactors, who could greatly benefit from this distraction.