By Choe Sang-Hun
North Korea launched a ballistic missile off its east coast Wednesday, just days before a new South Korean president was scheduled to take office, South Korean officials said.
The missile took off from Sunan, near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, at 12:03 p.m. and flew 292 miles before falling in the sea between North Korea and Japan, the South Korean military said. The missile reached an altitude of 485 miles. The military provided no further details on the type of missile launched.
North Korea has been unusually busy with weapons tests in recent months, conducting more than a dozen missile tests this year. The high frequency suggests that the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, is seeking to advance his missile and nuclear capabilities as well as to gain diplomatic leverage.
Talks with Washington have been stalled for years. And the incoming government of South Korea’s president-elect, Yoon Suk-yeol, who will be inaugurated Tuesday, is expected to take a more hawkish stance on relations with the North.
During the campaign, Yoon called for a more vigorous enforcement of sanctions against North Korea. He is expected to meet with President Joe Biden in Seoul on May 21 to discuss how to cope with Kim’s growing military threat.
In North Korea’s last missile test on April 16, state media reports said Kim had supervised the launch of a “new-type tactical guided weapon” to improve its “efficiency in the operation of tactical nukes.”
During a nighttime military parade last month, Kim vowed to expand his nuclear arsenal “at the fastest possible speed.” He also indicated that he was adopting a more aggressive nuclear doctrine, declaring that his nuclear weapons were not only a “war deterrent” but also could be used “if any forces try to violate the fundamental interests of our state.”
Since his diplomacy with President Donald Trump collapsed without an agreement in 2019, Kim has vowed to double down on his nuclear and missile development programs. He also resumed testing a variety of new missiles, some of them short-range solid-fuel ballistic missiles that experts said were designed to deliver conventional and nuclear warheads to South Korea and Japan as well as to U.S. military bases in the region.
North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile in March in its first long-range ballistic missile test since 2017.
Analysts have warned that more such tests are sure to come as Kim works to raise tensions with Yoon’s new administration.