North Korea claimed on Friday its provocative missile launches the previous day included a new class of short-range tactical ballistic missile, developed with its ostensibly advancing missile technology.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in called the missile test “concerning,” but insisted his government is still eager for three-way talks with the U.S. and North Korea.
“Now is the time for the South, the North and the United States to make efforts to continue dialogue. It is never desirable to create difficulties for dialogue,” Moon said.
Interestingly, the South Korean president conceded “our people have big worries about North Korea’s missile launches yesterday.” This somewhat conflicts with the view of many analysts that Thursday’s launch was as an expected and “relatively restrained” provocation, as Professor John Delury of South Korea’s Yonsei University put it to Reuters.
“These tests come some time after Biden’s inauguration, and they are still at a low enough level that it gives the administration breathing room. Regardless of North Korea’s intentions, however, the effect is to elevate the significance and move it up the administration’s agenda,” Delury said.
The Associated Press quoted analysts who agreed Pyongyang could have launched something more threatening but held back because the North Koreans are waiting to see what the Biden administration will do.
The question of exactly what North Korea launched on Thursday would go a long way towards deciding if Pyongyang is merely a squeaky wheel in search of grease. North Korea usually greets new American and South Korean administrations with some sort of weapons test, but the threat level of the weapons is significant.
According to North Korean state media, the test involved a mobile launcher and a new “weapon system of great significance” that carried a heavier warhead than earlier North Korean tactical missiles. The missile is supposedly capable of a “low-altitude gliding-leap type flight mode,” which would make it difficult to intercept.
On the other hand, Reuters pointed out that dictator Kim Jong-un did not appear to personally supervise the launch, as he usually does when weapons of “great significance” are tested.
The Japanese government said the weapons launched on Thursday, unlike North Korea’s more modest test-launch last Sunday, were ballistic missiles prohibited by U.N. Security Council resolutions. Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said on Friday that the North Koreans did indeed test a new type of ballistic missile, probably a weapon that was showcased at a military parade in Pyongyang in January.