North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles at the sea on Thursday, South Korea's military said on Thursday, the latest of a series of weapons demonstrations this year that came just hours after it confirmed it had its first case of the coronaviruses since the epidemic began.
The launches could underscore North Korea's determination to expand its arsenal despite the outbreak of the virus to rally support for the leader, Kim Jong Un, and keep up pressure on its rivals amid long-dormant nuclear diplomacy.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that three missiles launched from the North's capital region on Thursday afternoon flew toward the waters off the country's eastern coast. It said that South Korea's military has boosted its readiness and surveillance while maintaining close coordination with the United States. Japan also detected the North Korean launches. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida instructed officials to do their utmost to analyze the launch, ensure the safety of aircraft and vessels in the area and take precautions and readiness for any possible emergencies, according to his office.
A possible ballistic missile from North Korea is believed to have landed at sea, according to the Japanese coast guard. It urged vessels around the Japanese coasts to watch out for falling objects and report them to the authorities.
North Korean state media confirmed on Thursday that the country's first COVID 19 infections had been confirmed by North Korean state media, as Kim ordered nationwide lockdowns to slow the spread of the disease. Kim ordered officials to bolster the country's defense posture in order to avoid any security vacuum.
In recent months, North Korea has test-launched a series of missiles in an attempt to modernize its weapons and pressure the United States and its allies into accepting it as a nuclear state and relax sanctions on the North. Despite the elevated anti-virus steps, some observers say that North Korea would likely continue its weapons tests in order to boost public morale at home and strengthen loyalty toward the Kim leadership.
Thursday's launches were the first weapons fired by the North since the inauguration of the new conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Tuesday. Yoon's office said that his national security adviser Kim Sung-han was planning to convene a meeting to discuss the launches. North Korea has rattling new governments in Seoul and Washington in an effort to boost its bargaining chips in future negotiations. When Yoon meets U.S. President Joe Biden in Seoul next week, the North Korean nuclear threat will likely be top of the agenda.
North Korea's weapons tested recently included a variety of nuclear-capable missiles that could possibly reach South Korea, Japan or the mainland U.S. Last Saturday, South Korea detected a North Korea ballistic missile launch likely from a submarine in its first underwater-launched weapons test since October. There are signs that the North is about to conduct its first nuclear test in nearly five years at a remote testing ground in its northeast.