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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Update at 10:30 KST: This story has been updated to include additional information on the launch from the JCS and the Blue House.
North Korea on Saturday launched two ballistic projectiles into the East Sea, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, in the country’s fifth launch such since July 25.
The South Korean military said it detected North Korea test-firing “two projectiles” toward the eastern coast at 05:34 and 05:50 local time in the vicinity of Hamhung city in South Hamgyong province.
The two projectiles are “presumed to be ballistic missiles,” the JCS said, with the U.S. and South Korean authorities reportedly analyzing the “precise” specification of the projectiles.
The ballistic missiles flew around 400 km at an apogee of 48 km, the statement added, continuing that the “maximum speed was 6.1 Mach or more,” a similar distance to the those fired on Tuesday.
A video conference was held “promptly” to review the North’s test-fire of short-range missiles and the overall state of military security on the peninsula at 07:00 local time, the Blue House said in a written statement.
Relevant ministers including director of presidential National Security Office (NSO) Chung Eui-yong, defense minister Jeong Kyeong-doo, and director of National Intelligence Service (NIS) Suh Hoon attended the meeting.
Following the meeting, the Blue House said Saturday’s test likely represented an “armed demonstration in response to the ROK-U.S. command post exercise scheduled to kick off tomorrow.”
“Relevant ministers judged that the North’s launch aims at verifying the performance of its new short-range projectile which it has self-developed,” it said in a written Korean-language statement.
The participants also assessed “the projectiles are the short-range ballistic missiles,” the Blue House said, adding the “detailed specification will be precisely analyzed in close coordination between South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities.”
But the South Korean presidential office said there is no “peculiar military movement against the South as North Korea has been conducting the summer military drills.”
The ministers also “urged” the North to stop its weapons testing, expressing “concern that a series of launches can escalate military tensions on the Korean peninsula.”
“They also decided to review the firm joint defense posture which can respond to any kind of military situation through the command post exercise for the transfer of wartime operational control.”
South Korea and the U.S. are set to begin the full-scale stage of the joint military drills — aimed at verifying the initial operational capability (IOC) for the transfer of wartime operational control (OPCON) — on Sunday.
News of the test comes just hours after U.S. President Donald Trump said he received a “beautiful” letter from Kim Jong Un, in which the North Korean leader was reported to have expressed dissatisfaction with the ongoing joint U.S.-ROK military exercises.
Despite this, the U.S. President said that Kim’s letter was “very positive” and reiterated that he did not believe the North’s recent spate of short-range ballistic missile tests are a concern.
“There have been no nuclear tests. The missile tests have all been short-range. No ballistic missile tests. No long-range missiles,” Trump told reporters at the White House on Friday.
Trump added that Kim claimed he was unhappy with the joint U.S. – South Korea military exercises which began on Monday.
“He wasn’t happy with the … the war games. The war games on the other side, with the United States. And as you know, I’ve never liked it either. I’ve never liked it. I’ve never been a fan. You know why? I don’t like paying for it.” Trump said.
Speaking earlier this week, U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton said the current military exercises, which began on Monday, were mostly simulated and there were no plans to alter future drills with South Korea.
But North Korea has expressed public displeasure with the exercises, its last test on Tuesday a “warning” in the face of the new joint drills.
“Kim Jong Un noted that the said military action would be an occasion to send an adequate warning to the joint military drill now underway by the U.S. and South Korean authorities,” a report from the North’s state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) read.
Imagery of the test released by state media appears to confirm earlier speculation that the missile launched on Tuesday was the KN-23 — a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) first displayed at a February 2018 military parade in Pyongyang.
The tests conducted last week were of a newly developed multiple launch rocket system (MLRS), which North Korean media later referred to as a “Juche oriented weapon.”
Despite the ongoing tests, Washington has maintained a publicly positive outlook, with U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo on Wednesday saying he expected working-level talks with North Korea to resume in two weeks.
Edited by Oliver Hotham
Featured image: KCNA, file photo