SEOUL: North Korea tested its most powerful missile since 2017 on Sunday, adding firepower to its record-breaking seventh launch this month, as Seoul warned that a nuclear and long-range test could be next.
Pyongyang, which had never tested so many missiles in the previous calendar month, threatened last week to abandon its nearly five-year moratorium on testing long-range and nuclear weapons, accusing it of “hostile” U.S. policies that forced it to act.
With peace talks with Washington stalled, North Korea has doubled-down on leader Kim Jong Un’s vow to modernise the regime’s armed forces, flexing Pyongyang’s military muscles despite biting international sanctions.
South Korea said Sunday that North Korea appeared to be following a “similar pattern” to 2017 — when tensions were last at breaking-point on the peninsula — warning Pyongyang could soon restart nuclear and intercontinental missile tests.
North Korea “has come close to destroying the moratorium declaration”, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in said in a statement following an emergency meeting of Seoul’s National Security Council.
South Korea’s military said Sunday it had “detected an intermediate-range ballistic missile fired at a lofted angle eastward towards the East Sea.”
The missile was estimated to have hit a maximum altitude of 2,000 kilometres (1,200 miles) and flown around 800 kilometres for half an hour, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
High-altitude ballistics involves missiles being launched at high angles, rather than full range.
“North Korea did similar tests with its emerging medium and long range missile technology in 2017,” tweeted Chad O’Carroll of specialist website NK News.
“So this would imply today’s test involves one of those missile types — or potentially something new. In other words, a big deal.”
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.