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Dagyum Ji is a senior NK News correspondent based in Seoul. She previously worked for Reuters TV.
Correction: a previous version of this article said this test was North Korea’s eleventh so far this, when in fact it was North Korea’s twelfth. It has been amended to reflect that fact.
Update at 1945 KST and 0845 EST: this article has been updated to include further details from the South Korean military. It was later updated to include a response from the U.S. government.
North Korea on Thursday fired two unidentified projectiles from South Pyongan Province towards the East Sea, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.
In a statement, the South Korean military said it had “detected two unidentified short-range projectiles fired toward the East Sea from the vicinity of Sunchon [city] in South Pyongyang Province at 1635 and 1638 local time.”
The projectiles flew a maximum of 370km at an altitude of 90km, the statement continued, adding that the South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities would continue to assess additional specifications of the test.
“Our military is currently maintaining a readiness posture in preparation for additional launch, while monitoring the relevant launch,” the JCS said.
“This kind of action from North Korea is not helpful to efforts towards alleviating tensions on the Korean peninsula, and we repeatedly urge to stop it immediately.”
The test is North Korea’s first since October 2, when the country test-fired what was later revealed to have been the new-type Pukguksong-3 submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM).
It is also the second to take place in the DPRK’s western South Pyongan Province this year, following the test of a new Multiple Launch Rocket System (MLRS) from that location in September.
North Korea in the wake of that launch suggested that more testing of the new weapon may still be required, with leader Kim Jong Un reported to have said that “what remains to be done is [a] running fire test.”
The test comes amid growing uncertainty about the future of nuclear talks between Washington and Pyongyang, with a senior North Korean official having over the weekend warned the U.S. against continued “delaying tactics” in diplomacy.
A State Department spokesperson told NK News that the U.S. is “aware of reports of a North Korean missile launch.”
“We are continuing to monitor the situation and consulting closely with our allies in Japan and South Korea,” the spokesperson said.
The test also follows a high-profile visit by Kim Jong Un to the politically-symbolic Mount Paektu early in the month, during which officials present were reported to have said “a great operation to strike the world with wonder again” was in the works.
“This is consistent with hardening signals from state media since the breakdown of the Stockholm talks and Kim’s climb up Mt. Paektu,” Minyoung Lee, a senior analyst with NK News‘s sister site NK Pro, said.
“It also comes two days after domestic state media informed the people that North Korea will not have denuclearization talks with the U.S. until its demands are met,” she added — referring to the recent publishing of a speech by top DPRK official Choe Ryong Hae by state media.
“North Korea will likely escalate the level of its provocations over the next few weeks.”
Another expert said Pyongyang was seeking to build pressure on the U.S. and South Korea amid the broader diplomatic stalemate.
“They are just reminding them that they cannot hope to remain idle,” Andrei Lankov, a director at the Korea Risk Group — which owns and operates NK News — said. “If they continued to do nothing, the North Koreans will escalate things further.”
In response to the test, director of South Korea’s presidential National Security Office (NSO) Chung Eui-yong on Thursday convened a meeting of the standing committee of the National Security Council (NSC).
The NSC standing committee “expressed strong concerns that North Korea launched short-range projectiles.”
The background to and intention of Thursday’s test-fire were reportedly discussed at the meeting, along with the “overall recent military and security situation surrounding the Korean Peninsula.”
President Moon Jae-in is currently in Busan, attending the funeral of his mother, who passed away on Tuesday. Kim Jong Un was earlier in the day reported to have sent a letter of condolence.
The test-launch also comes as the South Korean military conducts its independent “Hoguk” exercise, which began on Monday and is set to continue until November 8.
Seoul last week said the drills, which include joint landing exercise and air defense training, would focus on maintaining military readiness and preparing joint operational capabilities.
The Hoguk field training exercise (FTX) is an annual exercise, held in the second half of the year since 1996.
Featured image: file photo