North Korea has fired two medium-range ballistic missiles into the sea, US and South Korean officials have said. South Korea’s military said the first missile was launched from Sukchon in the country’s southwest at 5:55am on Friday (20:55 GMT on Thursday) and flew 800km before crashing off into the East Sea, also known as Sea of Japan.
The second, fired about 20 minutes later, disappeared off radar early into its flight. Both missiles are believed to be medium-range Rodong missiles fired from road-mobile launch vehicles. If confirmed, it would mark North Korea’s first test of a medium-range missile, capable of reaching Japan, since 2014 – the Rodong missile has an estimated maximum range of around 1,300km.
The launches came amid heightened tensions on the Korean peninsula after the North rejected UN Security Council sanctions imposed earlier in March in response to a nuclear test conducted in January. New US sanctions on Pyongyang were also issued on Wednesday aiming to expand North Korea’s blockade by blacklisting individuals and entities that deal with the North’s economy.
Jeff Kingston, a professor of Asian Studies at Temple University in Tokyo, Japan, said the test firing was “clearly” a “defiant gesture by Pyongyang”. “[They] say, ‘well we are not going to back down and we are going to continue with our quest to become a nuclear weapons power,'” Kingston told Al Jazeera. “What we’ve discovered over the last 20 years is that there’s not really any combination of sticks and carrots that seems to deter them from that quest, so it looks like we’re still at an impasse and it’s really hard to see a bright road ahead.”