SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Tuesday fired at least one ballistic missile into the sea in what South Korea’s military described as a weapon likely designed for submarine-based launches, marking possibly the most significant demonstration of the North’s military might since President Joe BidenInto office.

The launch came hours after the U.S. reaffirmed its offer to resume diplomacy on North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. This highlighted the fact that North Korea is expanding its military capabilities even though diplomacy has been suspended.

The South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement it detected the North firing one short-range missile it believed was a submarine-launched ballistic missile from waters near the eastern port of Sinpo, and that the South Korean and U.S. militaries were closely analyzing the launch.

The South Korean military said the launch was made at sea, but it didn’t elaborate whether it was fired from a vessel submerged underwater or another launch platform above the sea’s surface.

Japan’s military said its initial analysis suggested the North fired two ballistic missiles and Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said officials were examining whether they were SLBMs.

Kishida, who was on a campaign visit to Japan in advance of the upcoming legislative elections, stopped his trip and returned to Tokyo. The leader ordered his government to start revising the country’s national security strategy to adapt to North Korea’s growing threats.

“We cannot overlook North Korea’s recent development in missile technology and its impact on the security of Japan and in the region,” he said.

Unidentified man views a TV report that shows a file of North Korean missile tests at Seoul’s railway station on October 19, 2021.

South Korean officials held a national security council meeting and expressed “deep regret” over the launch that came despite efforts to revive diplomacy. A strong South Korean response could anger North Korea, which has accused Seoul of hypocrisy for criticizing the North’s weapons tests while expanding its own conventional military capabilities.

The apparent site of the missile firing — a shipyard in Sinpo — is a major defense industry hub where North Korea focuses its submarine production. The North also uses Sinpo in recent years to create ballistic weapon systems that can be fired from subs.

North Korea last tested an SLBM on October 2019,

Analysts expected that the North would resume testing such weapons once it had rolled out two more SLBMs at military parades in 2021 and 2020. The North may also be working to construct a bigger submarine capable of firing multiple missiles.

Japan’s Deputy Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihiko Isozaki said Tokyo has lodged a “strong protest” to North Korea through the “usual channels,” meaning their embassies in Beijing. Japan and North Korea don’t have any diplomatic ties.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin said the tensions on the Korean Peninsula were at a “critical stage” and called for a renewed commitment to diplomatically resolving the issue.

After a long lull, North Korea ended its September lull by launching more weapons tests and making conditionsal peace proposals to Seoul. This is a return to a tradition of pressuring South Korea for what they want from the United States.

In this Oct. 11, 2021, photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un speaks during an exhibition of weapons systems in Pyongyang.
This Oct. 11, 2021 photo was provided by North Korea’s government. Kim Jong Un, North Korean leader, speaks at an exhibit of weapon systems in Pyongyang.
Source: Associated Press

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is “developing submarine-launched ballistic missiles because he wants a more survivable nuclear deterrent able to blackmail his neighbors and the United States,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

Easley added that North Korea “cannot politically afford appearing to fall behind in a regional arms race” with its southern neighbor.

“North Korea’s SLBM is probably far from being operationally deployed with a nuclear warhead,” he added.

North Korea has been pushing hard for years to acquire an ability to fire nuclear-armed missiles from submarines, the next key piece in Kim Jong Un’s arsenal that includes a broad range of road mobile missiles and ICBMs with potential range to reach the American homeland.

Experts warn that it will take many years and significant technological advancements for sanctions-sanctioned countries to create a fleet capable of traveling quietly on the seas while still being able to execute strikes.

Within days, Biden’s special envoy for North Korea, Sung Kim, is scheduled to meet with U.S. allies in Seoul over the prospects of reviving talks with North Korea.

Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have stalled for more than two years over disagreements in exchanging the release of crippling U.S.-led sanctions against North Korea and the North’s denuclearization steps.

But while North Korea is apparently trying to use South Korea’s desire for inter-Korean engagement to extract concessions from Washington, analysts say Seoul has little wiggle room as the Biden administration is intent on keeping sanctions in place until the North makes concrete steps toward denuclearization.

“The U.S. continues to reach out to Pyongyang to restart dialogue. The intent of the U.S. remains unchanged. We harbor no hostile intent toward the DPRK and we are open to meeting without preconditions,” Sung Kim told reporters on Monday.

Last week, Kim Jong Un reviewed powerful missiles designed to launch nuclear strikes on the U.S. mainland during a military exhibition and vowed to build an “invincible” military to cope with what he called persistent U.S. hostility. Earlier, Kim dismissed U.S. offers for resuming talks without preconditions as a “cunning” attempt to conceal its hostile policy on the North.

Over the last month, the country tested a variety of weapons, including a cruise missile capable of carrying nuclear warheads and a hypersonic missile in development.

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said North Korea’s latest launch did not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel, territory, or that of its allies.


This report was contributed by Mari Yamaguchi, Matthew Lee and Liu Zheng (AP video producer) in Tokyo.


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