North Korea fired an unidentifiable short-range missile off its east coast on Tuesday morning, about 30 minutes before Kim Song, the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations, made a speech at the U.N. General Assembly.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff confirmed the test but as of this writing had not disclosed detailed information regarding the missile. According to the JCS, the missile flew less than 200 kilometers (124 miles) at an altitude of around 60 km from Jagang-do, a northern county of North Korea. Some experts theorized that, as the North only launched one missile this time, it could have been a different type of missile, such as a hypersonic cruise missile.
The top-ranking officials of South Korea’s National Security Council held an emergency meeting and expressed regret over North Korea’s test. President Moon Jae-in also ordered officials to undertake a comprehensive analysis of the missile and recent statements from Pyongyang to craft a prompt response.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said that “the missile launch highlights the destabilizing impact of the DPRK’s illicit weapons program” in a statement, even while noting that “the event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to our allies.” (DPRK is the official name of North Korea.)
The missile test came just a few days after Kim Yo Jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, made statements over Moon’s “declaration on the end to the Korean War” proposal. Kim denounced the “double standard” of South Korea and the U.S. over the military activities conducted by the two Koreas. She said removal of that “double standard” was a condition for progress on inter-Korean relations, including the end of war declaration championed by South Korea’s President Moon.
Washington and Seoul have offered to meet Pyongyang immediately to reengage in dialogue on the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. However, North Korea has consistently refused to come back to the negotiating table, while demanding Washington and Seoul to remove their “hostile policy” first.
The U.S. and South Korea have even intentionally downplayed the North’s missile tests in a bid to head off North Korea’s accusations of “double standards.”
“The [South Korean] government did not stipulate the North’s test as a ‘provocation,’ but the North could impede rebuilding the inter-Korean relations by publishing a statement from Kim Yo Jong or other senior officials, as [Seoul] expressed ‘regret’ over the test,” Cheong Seong-chang, a senior fellow at the Sejong Institute think tank in South Korea, told The Diplomat.
Cheong mentioned that Seoul’s expression of “regret” could egg on the North’s missile tests around October 10 – the 76th anniversary of the Workers’ Party – as the North could continue to target the “double standard” of South Korea and the U.S. toward military activities conducted by the two Koreas.
Meanwhile, Ambassador Kim reiterated Pyongyang’s hardline stance on the U.S. “hostile policy” in his address at the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday. Kim consistently elided the dark fact of North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile capabilities, while invoking the United States as the main actor provoking tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
“The U.S. hostile policy against the DPRK finds its clearest expression in its military threats against us,” Kim said. He urged the U.S. to withdraw the “anachronistic hostile policy” toward North Korea in “a bold and complete manner.”
“If the U.S. wants to see the Korean war, the most prolonged and long-lasting war in the world, come to an end… it should take the first step towards giving up its hostile policy against the DPRK by stopping permanently the joint military exercises and the deployment of all kinds of strategic weapons which are levelled at the DPRK in and around the Korean Peninsula,” Kim said.
Kim spent most of his speech blaming stalled negotiations over Korean Peninsula issues on the United States. Although Kim left the possibility that inter-Korean relations could be improved if the U.S. gives up its hostile policy against North Korea, it’s likely that the deadlocked dialogue between the two countries will remain for a while. North Korea’s current hardline stance shows no interest in a détente.