SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Tuesday fired what appeared to be a ballistic missile into its eastern sea, its second weapons launch in a week, the militaries of South Korea and Japan said.
This month’s launches follow a series of weapons tests in 2021 that underscored how North Korea continues to expand its military capabilities amid a self-imposed pandemic lockdown and deadlocked nuclear talks with the United States.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North fired at least one weapon early Tuesday but didn’t immediate say whether it was ballistic or how far it flew. Japan’s Prime Minister’s Office and Defense Ministry said the North Korean weapon was possibly a ballistic missile but didn’t immediately provide more details.
The Offices of Guam Homeland Security and Civil Defense said it was monitoring the reports of the North’s launch but that no immediate threat was assessed for Guam, a major U.S. military hub in the Pacific.
The latest launch came six days after the North fired a ballistic missile into the sea in what it later described as a successful test of a hypersonic missile, a type of weaponry the North claimed to have first tested in September.
That test came days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a key political conference vowed to bolster his military forces despite pandemic-related difficulties.
U.S.-led diplomacy on North Korea’s nuclear program has been stalled since 2019 due to disputes over international sanctions on the North. The Biden administration has repeatedly called for resuming nuclear diplomacy “anywhere and at any time” without preconditions, but North Korea has argued the U.S. must first withdraw its hostility against it before any talks can restart.
The North’s advancing nuclear arsenal is at the core of Kim’s rule and what he clearly considers his strongest guarantee of survival. During his 10-year rule, he’s conducted a large number of weapons tests in a push to acquire the ability to launch nuclear strikes on the American mainland.
But his country’s economy has faltered severely in the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the U.S.-led sanctions over his nuclear ambitions and his government’s own mismanagement.
__ Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.