North Korea tests a series of projectiles amid coronavirus threat

North Korea tests a series of projectiles amid coronavirus threat

Top Stories | Mar 20, 2020:

FORUM Staff

North Korea launched a series of short-range projectiles a week apart in early March 2020 after a three-month hiatus, resuming its provocative behavior, according to South Korean officials. The tests began a week after the United Nations Security Council granted the regime sanctions relief for resources to fight the coronavirus, South Korean news agency Yonhap reported.

“This kind of act by North Korea does not help efforts to reduce tensions on the Korean Peninsula,” the Republic of Korea (ROK) military said in a statement. The military is analyzing data on two projectiles that were fired off March 2, flying roughly 240 kilometers before falling into the sea between Japan and North Korea, according to The New York Times newspaper. “We once again urge the North to immediately stop it,” the ROK military said

North Korea’s early March launch off its east coast near Wonson appeared to be part of a military drill, ROK officials said, according to The New York Times. The “long-range artillery drill” was overseen by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, North Korean official media said, according to Yonhap. (Pictured: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a drill on February 29, 2020, in this image released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency).

Then March 9, North Korea launched several short-range projectiles, likely from a multiple-launch rocket system, into the eastern sea, apparently part of another firing drill, ROK’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, according to Reuters. They flew up to 200 kilometers, hitting 50 kilometers in altitude, higher than those launched during the March 2 test.

The second round of tests, which included at least three projectiles, prompted the U.S. and China to call the same day for Pyongyang to resume talks on ending its nuclear and ballistic missile programs, Reuters reported.

“We continue to call on North Korea to avoid provocations, abide by obligations under U.N. Security Council resolutions, and return to sustained and substantive negotiations to do its part to achieve complete denuclearization‎,” a U.S. State Department spokeswoman said.

In late February 2020, the U.N. Security Council green-lighted a sanctions exemption for North Korea to allow the transport of diagnostic and medical equipment into North Korea to assist the Kim regime in fighting the coronavirus outbreak, according to Radio Free Asia (RFA). The sanctions ban equipment and imports that could further North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.

“The Committee reiterates that the sanctions measures imposed by the Security Council through its resolutions with respect to the DPRK [Democratic People’s Republic of Korea] are not intended to bear a negative impact on the people of the DPRK,” U.N. Committee Chair Christoph Heusgen wrote in a February 27, 2020, letter, approving the exemption, which was requested by the World Health Organization.

The tests came amid South Korea’s struggle with the coronavirus epidemic, which has afflicted more than 6,000 people in South Korea, and just days after the ROK and U.S. militaries delayed their joint annual drills because of the COVID-19 outbreak, various news agencies reported.

Although North Korea had still not reported a single COVID-19 case through March 10, 2020, the regime has stepped up its prevention endeavors. Observers suspect the coronavirus has infiltrated North Korea because of its porous border with China, among other factors and evidence. There have been reports of infected individuals and deaths in North Korea by South Korean media, according to RFA.

The March short-range missile tests were the first since the regime’s November 28, 2019, launch, part of a series of apparently short-range rockets and ballistic missiles tests, The New York Times reported.

During a March 4, 2020, U.S. Senate Armed Services Committee hearing, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said North Korea’s ballistic missile capabilities are “becoming increasingly complicated” after the test “as they seek to modernize the full range of missile systems,” Yonhap reported.

In late December 2019, Kim threatened to resume testing nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, although the regime has halted such tests for two years. Kim also said he planned to unveil a “new strategic weapon in the near future,” according to North Korea’s official news agency, NPR reported.

North Korea “appears intent on raising the stakes before South Korea’s April elections and before the Super Tuesday primaries of the U.S. presidential campaign,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, told The New York Times. “North Korea is making clear with these missile tests it will continue to improve military capabilities and make outsized demands, despite the political and public health preoccupations of Beijing, Seoul and Washington.”

South Korea’s parliamentary elections are scheduled for April 15. (The Super Tuesday primaries were held in the U.S. on March 3.)

North Korea conducted the first tests about a week after the U.N. Security Council exemption. Heusgen, who is the German ambassador to the U.N., was among the first to condemn the tests. On March 5, Belgium, Britain, Estonia, France and Germany denounced the March 2 launch.

The five European nations, all U.N. Security Council members, are “deeply concerned by North Korea’s testing of ballistic missiles,” Heusgen, speaking for the coalition, told reporters at the U.N. headquarters in New York, Yonhap reported.

“We condemn such provocative actions. They undermine regional security and stability, as well as international peace and security, and they are in clear violation of unanimously adopted U.N. Security Council resolutions,” he said.

“We continue to urge the DPRK to engage in good faith in meaningful negotiations with the United States aimed at denuclearization, to take concrete steps to abandoning all weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs in a complete, verifiable and irreversible manner, and to refrain from further provocations,” Heusgen said.

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