North Korea has said it test-fired a new anti-aircraft missile, the fourth weapons launch in recent weeks.
Experts say the launch is part of a strategy to win relief from sanctions and other concessions.
South Korea, Japan and the United States typically publicly confirm North Korean ballistic missile launches, which are banned by UN resolutions, soon after they occur. But they did not do so for Thursday’s launch, indicating the weapon tested may have been a different kind.
Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that South Korean and US intelligence authorities monitored moves by North Korea but did not elaborate.
Three weeks ago, North Korea resumed missile tests after a six-month lull. As it has sometimes done before, the North combined the show of force with a more conciliatory gesture, offering earlier this week to reactivate hotlines that North and South Korea use to set up meetings, arrange border crossings and avoid accidental clashes.
Diplomacy aimed at getting the North to abandon its nuclear arsenal in return for economic and political rewards has largely been deadlocked since early 2019.
That has left North Korea under crippling US-led economic sanctions, at a time when its fragile economy is suffering massive setbacks due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The North’s latest moves appear aimed at pressuring South Korea, which wants to improve strained ties on the peninsula, to persuade the US to relax the sanctions.
Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the launch appears to be the primitive stage of a test to develop a missile designed to shoot down incoming enemy missiles and aircraft.
Earlier this week, in his government’s latest mixed signal, North Korea leader Kim Jong Un expressed his willingness to restore the communication hotlines with South Korea in the coming days, but he also shrugged off US offers for dialogue as a “cunning” concealment of its hostility against the North.
He also insisted that South Korea abandon its “double-dealing attitude” if it wants to see an improvement in Korean relations.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken told reporters that Washington “certainly supports” inter-Korean dialogue in principle. But he noted that North Korea’s recent launches were in violation of UN Security Council resolutions and created “greater prospects for instability and insecurity.”