Breaking a month-long lull in missile tests, North Korea has fired two short-range projectiles into the sea off its east coast in what appeared to be the latest try-out of its new multiple rocket launchers, South Korea’s military says.
The test-firing on Thursday came as the clock ticks down on the year-end deadline that Pyongyang had given the United States to show flexibility in their stalled denuclearisation talks.
It also coincided with the US Thanksgiving holiday and took place one day before the second anniversary of the North’s test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the US mainland.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the North fired the two projectiles into the sea from launchers in the eastern coastal town of Yonpo about 5pm (7pm AEDT).
The rockets travelled up to 380km and reached an altitude of 97km, the JCS said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the launch was a threat not only to Japan but the region and beyond, though his defence ministry said the projectiles did not enter Japanese airspace or its Exclusive Economic Zone.
The launch is the first since October 31, when the North tested what it called super-large multiple rocket launchers, which had also been used in tests conducted in August and September that were overseen by North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.
South Korea’s military expressed “strong regret” and urged the North to stop stoking military tension.
“Such acts by North Korea are unhelpful for efforts to ease tension on the Korean peninsula,” Jeon Dong-jin, director of operations at the JCS, told a news briefing.
Kim has set an end-year deadline for the talks with Washington but negotiations have been at an impasse after a day-long working level meeting on October 5 ended without progress.
North Korea has been demanding the lifting of sanctions that are hobbling its economy and Kim set the deadline for Washington to show more flexibility in April, raising concerns he could resume nuclear and long-range missile testing suspended since 2017.
President Donald Trump, who is seeking re-election in 2020, has repeatedly pointed to Kim’s suspension of long-range missile and nuclear bomb tests as a major achievement of his engagement with North Korea.