Hot on the heels of its launch of multiple missiles last Saturday, North Korea unleashed a second barrage on Thursday afternoon, in what appears to be an act designed to capture the attention of Washington.
Projectiles were fired from a medium-range missile base in the Sino-ri area, northeast of Pyongyang, at around 4.30pm local time, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs said, according to Seoul-based Yonhap news agency. They landed in the Sea of Japan, which Korea calls the East Sea.
Military officials in the South said that two rockets were fired; they flew 270 and 420 kilometers (170 and 260 miles), according to a later report by AFP.
Saturday’s launch – the first missile test North Korea had conducted since it started engaging global leaders in a “charm offensive” unleashed at the start of 2018 – involved a combination of rockets from a tactical, multiple launch system, as well as a short-range ballistic missile.
At the end of 2017, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un announced that his nuclear and intercontinental ballistic missile programs were complete, and, indeed, no nuclear or ICBM tests have been conducted by the hardline state since then. This de facto test moratorium has been repeatedly hailed by US President Donald Trump as a key outcome of his engagement with Kim.
Kim aims at Trump
However, following Trump’s walk-out from the bilateral summit in Hanoi in February, North Korea has made clear its angst with a series of actions.
It has called two unusual press conferences – one in Hanoi, on the night of the summit, and a subsequent one in Pyongyang. And last month it launched an unidentified tactical weapon – possibly an anti-tank rocket – followed by multiple short-range missiles on Saturday, and yet more projectiles today.
Trump barely reacted to last Saturday’s launch, brushing it off with a tweet in which he assured followers that his relationship with Kim remained solid and a bilateral deal would happen.
On that day, Andrei Lankov, a North Korea expert at Kookmin University in Seoul, predicted to Asia Times that – absent a US response – North Korea would likely unleash a series of calibrated provocations.
Other experts agreed in regard to what North Korea seeks to achieve with its latest launch.
“The North Koreans aim to bring Trump back into the room,” Mike Breen, author of The New Koreans, told Asia Times following Thursday’s launch. “Maybe they are testing Trump’s resolve by raising the specter of 2017.”
In late 2017, tensions sky-rocketed after North Korea tested a ballistic missile capable of striking the mainland United States, while Kim and Trump engaged in a cross-Pacific war of words. Trump has since referred to how close the two sides came to war, though some believe this may be hyperbole.
“We may be entering a period of heightened tensions,” Breen warned, but he noted that today’s launch is not a game changer. “The red line would be a nuclear test,” he said.
And even that clock is ticking. Last month, Kim told North Korea’s Supreme People’s Assembly that he would hold the door open for dialog only until the end of this year.