SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea launched two alleged ballistic missiles into the sea on Sunday, South Korea and Japan said, extending a string of weapons launches that indicates leader Kim Jong Un is attempting to consolidate domestic support in the face of fears about a potential coronavirus outbreak in the region.
South Korea’s Joint Staff Chiefs said on Sunday morning it observed the missiles heading into the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan from the North Korean eastern coastal city of Wonsan. The projectiles flew at an average altitude of 30 kilometers (19 miles), the statement said, some 230 kilometers (143 miles). At a time when the world is fighting the coronavirus epidemic, the military described the launches as “quite inappropriate” It has encouraged North Korea to discourage any kind of military operation.
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Japan’s Defense Ministry said it was suspected that alleged ballistic missiles had splashed into the waters beyond the exclusive economic zone of Japan. “North Korea’s latest persistent launching of ballistic missiles is a significant problem for the entire international community including Japan,” a ministry statement said. North Korea has launched a slew of rockets and shells of artillery into the sea in recent weeks, in an obvious attempt to improve its military capabilities in the wake of failed nuclear negotiations with the United States.
Both such guns were short-range and capable of striking South Korea but did not pose a direct threat to the territory of the United States.
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Several analysts believe the new North Korean launches were presumably intended to improve solidarity and show that leader Kim Jong Un is in charge in the face of U.S .- led sanctions and the global pandemic. Kim “wants to show he rules in a normal way amid the coronavirus (pandemic) and his latest weapons tests were aimed at rallying unity internally, not launching a threat externally,” said Kim Dong, an analyst at Seoul’s Institute for Far Eastern Studies. “North Korea has little room to spare now for preparing (external threats).”
North Korea launched an aggressive effort to deter the transmission of the virus that has infected more than 660,000 people worldwide. China has called its initiative a “global life” concern but has steadfastly rejected a single virus outbreak on its soil. Many international analysts dispute the argument, warning a North Korean outbreak may be dire due to its persistent scarcity of medical supplies and inadequate health care facilities.
North Korea said a week ago that President Donald Trump delivered a personal letter to Kim, trying to maintain friendly relations and promising help to combat the outbreak. A state media report from North Korea hasn’t specified that Trump discussed any of the North’s new missile activities.
Kim Jong Un has vowed to raise internal power to combat what he calls US-led “gangsters-like” sanctions that stifle the economy of his country. His nuclear diplomacy with Trump wavered after the US president turned down his calls for wide-ranging sanctions relief in return for a restricted denuclearization phase at their second Vietnam summit in early 2009. North Korea has not performed nuclear or long-range missile drills since negotiations with the US began in 2018. North Korea’s resumption of a new missile drill risks completely undermining the talks.