SEOUL – North Korea tested two short-range cruise missiles over the weekend, South Korean defense officials confirmed on Wednesday, adding a series of provocations and statements over the past few weeks that experts labeled warnings to Washington.
The test took place off the west coast of North Korea on Sunday, just days after the country accused the United States and South Korea of causing “a stink” on the Korean peninsula with their annual military exercises. It did not violate United Nations resolutions prohibiting North Korea from developing or testing ballistic missile technology. However, it was the country’s first missile test since President Biden took office in January.
When North Korea launches missile tests, they are usually celebrated by state media and quickly confirmed by the South Korean military. However, the North Korean media did not cover the test on Sunday. South Korean officials said Wednesday that they discovered the test when it took place but decided not to report it immediately. They did not elaborate on their decision.
South Korean defense officials tend to view short-range cruise missile tests as less of a provocation than ballistic launches. They also tend not to highlight what they consider minor provocations from the north when trying to promote inter-Korean dialogue. When North Korea launched short-range cruise missiles off its east coast in April last year, they were immediately confirmed by South Korea. In this case, South Korean officials only confirmed the test afterwards it was reported first from the Washington Post.
The missiles were launched at 6:36 a.m. on Sunday from a location near Nampo, a port southwest of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, said Ha Tae-keung, a South Korean lawmaker who was briefed by intelligence officials on Wednesday. The intelligence officials said the South Korean military authorities had agreed with their American counterparts not to publish the tests, Ha said.
South Korea and the United States completed their annual 10-day military training exercise last week. North Korea has often responded to these exercises with its own exercises, which sometimes include missile tests.
Officials and analysts in the region have been watching North Korea closely to see if the country would escalate tensions to leverage ahead of possible negotiations with the Biden government.
North Korea has rejected any serious dialogue with Washington since the second summit between its Chairman Kim Jong-un and former President Donald J. Trump in Hanoi, Vietnam, ended abruptly in 2019. Mr. Kim and Mr. Trump failed to reach an agreement on how quickly the North would cut its nuclear program or when Washington would grant sanction relief.
Pyongyang has made several hostile statements to the United States in the past few days, and analysts said the missile test may be part of a subtle pressure tactic, increasing the possibility that North Korea will return to a new cycle of tension on the peninsula to stamp out concessions from Washington .
“With these new missile tests, Pyongyang is signaling to Team Biden that its military capabilities are getting stronger every day,” Harry J. Kazianis, senior director of Korean Studies at the Washington-based Center for the National Interest, said in an email sent Comment.
The Biden government has stepped up efforts to work more closely with its regional allies South Korea and Japan to better cope with North Korea’s growing weaponry capabilities as well as an emerging China. Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken and Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III visited Seoul and Tokyo last week as part of the government’s first high-level diplomatic tour of Asia.
President Biden plans to complete a policy review in North Korea in close coordination with South Korea and Japan in the coming weeks, Blinken said in Seoul. He said the review included “both printing options and potential for future diplomacy”. During his visit, Mr. Blinken also criticized North Korea’s human rights record and what he called Mr. Kim’s “repressive government” and its “widespread and systematic abuses”.
Washington made a breakthrough last week when a North Korean citizen was extradited to the US for the first time. A Malaysian court agreed to extradite the North Korean businessman, who is due to be tried in an American court for money laundering and violating international sanctions. North Korea accused Washington of being a “backstage manipulator” in this case and warned against “paying a fair price”.
There is also no need to respond to the recent attempts by the Biden government to enter into dialogue and reject them as a “trick of delaying time”.
As Washington strengthens its alliances with Tokyo and Seoul, Kim and Xi Jinping, China’s leaders, have vowed to bring their two communist countries closer together.
In a message to Mr. Xi published in North Korean media this week, Mr. Kim stressed the need to strengthen unity between the two countries in order to “deal with enemy forces.” In his own message to Mr. Kim, Mr. Xi vowed to help maintain “peace and stability” on the Korean peninsula.
North Korea’s recent missile test suggests that Mr. Kim “will tolerate continued economic dependence on China to get out of the pandemic of the offensive against Washington and Seoul,” said Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.