The South Korean military on Monday stood by its earlier assessment that North Korea on the previous day tested ballistic missiles, not space rockets -- a launch Pyongyang claims to have taken place as part of its “final push” to develop a spy satellite.
“Our joint assessment about the Sunday test that North Koreans had fired two medium-range ballistic missiles remains unchanged,” a spokesman for South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said at a briefing, referring to Korean and US intelligence. “We’re still looking through specifics of the weapons.”
The test -- conducted at the North’s Seohae Satellite Launching Ground, a site used to test Pyongyang’s missile technologies -- is the latest sign of North Korea’s unwavering commitment to ramping up aggression with its missile launches despite diplomatic outreach from South Korea and its biggest ally, the US. Washington-Pyongyang nuclear negotiations last took place in October 2019.
North Korea since then has largely pursued a military buildup rather than economic incentives in exchange for denuclearization.
This year, the isolated country facing international sanctions that ban it from developing ballistic missiles has carried out an unprecedented number of missile tests, with its newest intercontinental ballistic missile launch in November signaling no major shift in its belligerence course of action ahead, unless the regime first sees its sanctions eased -- a demand both Seoul and Washington have refused to meet.
Kim Gunn, South Korea’s chief nuclear envoy, also said Monday another North Korean provocation would be met with “stern measures” from South Korea and Japan in a repeat of what the three-way coalition including the US said last week. The coalition -- comprising the nuclear envoys from Seoul, Tokyo and Washington -- has met regularly since June and is leading the international campaign to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear ambitions.
What constitutes “stern measures” has yet to be revealed, because making them public ahead of North Korea’s provocations “would be counterproductive,” according to a senior official at the Foreign Ministry. The official declined to be identified due to the sensitivity of the topic.
The Unification Ministry, which handles inter-Korean affairs, described the latest missile test as a clear violation of United Nations Security Council sanctions. A ministry spokesperson said, “North Korea should try looking after its own people and economy and use resources to make their lives better.”
But North Korea will keep launching missiles to improve their capabilities, particularly in space, even if the impoverished country lacks tools like sophisticated equipment solely designed to test space technologies, according to Chang Young-keun, a missile specialist at Korea Aerospace University.
“Basically, a country needs a set of space equipment to test a satellite system, but North Korea has yet to build it,” Chang said. “But in May, leader Kim Jong-un urged his space agency to ‘accelerate’ efforts.”
A spokesperson for the North’s National Aerospace Development Administration said Sunday’s test confirmed “important technical indicators.”