In Depth

Why is everyone talking about North Korea’s missile test?

Pyongyang alleged to have launched two ‘unidentified projectiles’

North Korea has launched two unidentified missiles without warning, South Korean and Japanese military officials have claimed.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff announced today that two “unidentified projectiles” had been launched “toward the East Sea” (also known as the Sea of Japan) from North Korea.

Sky News reports that the news comes just three days after North Korea revealed that its troops conducted artillery drills near its disputed sea boundary with its southern neighbour.

What happened?

At around 5pm local time (8am GMT), Japan’s coastguard said that it had detected “what appeared to be a missile launched by North Korea” and “was monitoring where it would land”, the Daily Express reports. South Korea’s military backed this claim, with Japan later confirming that the projectiles had not entered its airspace.

The New York Times says that intelligence officials in South Korea have identified the likely launch site as Yonpo, a town on North Korea’s east coast, but did not provide details such as “what type of weapons were launched or how far they flew”.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his government would be in close contact with its partners to watch developments.

Abe said: “Multiple missile launches by North Korea are a serious challenge not only for Japan, but also international society,” Reuters reports.

“We will remain in close contact with the United States, South Korea and the international community to monitor the situation. We will increase our vigilance to preserve the safety and assets of the Japanese people.”

Why has North Korea done this?

According to Sky News, similar reports have usually turned out to be “test launches of missiles, artillery pieces and other weapons”.

This is the 13th time this year that North Korea has carried out such a weapons test, The Korea Herald adds, with the last test-firings taking place in October, when it fired a number of missiles from its so-called “super-large multiple rocket launcher”.

The reasons behind the increase in weapons testing cannot be known for certain, but it comes amid “increasing friction between North Korea and its main adversaries, South Korea and the United States”, CNN says.

“Nuclear negotiations between Washington and Pyongyang have been at an impasse for weeks,” the broadcaster adds, with North Korea recently stating that it is no longer interested in holding talks with the US or South Korea.

Furthermore, CNN adds that today’s launch took place on Thanksgiving in the US, and that the “symbolism might be significant” as “North Korea has previously conducted missile tests on important American holidays”.

North Korea’s first successful test launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile came on 4 July – US Independence Day – in 2017.

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