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Analysis-As N.Korea gears up for potential nuclear test, missiles get little domestic fanfare -Breaking


© Reuters. FILE PHOTO – A woman is watching a TV that broadcasts a news story about North Korea’s three rocket launches, one of which was thought to be an Intercontinental Ballistic Missile (ICBM). This happened in Seoul, South Korea. May 25, 2022. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji

Hyonhee Shin

SEOUL (Reuters). – North Korean state media kept silent regarding a recent flurry in missile tests, amid an unprecedented coronavirus virus wave – possibly to avoid being overshadowed by a potential nuclear attack.

On Wednesday, North Korea fired three ballistic missiles, the largest of which was an intercontinental missile (ICBM), called the HS-17. It prompted live-fire drills between the United States and South Korea as well as renewed U.N. sanction pressure.

This rare, near simultaneous launch of several types of missiles occurred amid the first COVID-19-related outbreak in Nigeria. U.N agencies fear that this could lead to a crisis for 25 million of its citizens.

Analysts believe that the tests prove that North Korea is serious about making technological progress in its weapon programs. North Korea’s media is unusually silent, even though it could trumpet the success of launches as well as its evolving nuclear and missile capabilities.

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Cheong Seongchang is the director of Sejong Institute’s North Korea study centre.

Recent tests were not all successful. South Korea claimed that the second missile fired by the trio on Wednesday was a KN-23 short-range missile (SRBM), and it crashed mid-flight.

Ankit Panda (a senior fellow at Carnegie Endowment for International Peace in the U.S.) stated that “these may be about making technical advances and, in case of the suspect KN-23s), getting additional operational experience.”

Kim Taehyo, South Korea’s vice national security advisor, stated that the ICBM tests seemed to be aimed for checking the missiles’ stage separation and propulsion systems and overall performance. While the SRBM launch may have been to enhance its nuclear delivery ability,

In addition, he said there may be signs that North Korea has conducted several experiments using a detonation apparatus in preparation of its first nuclear test in 2017; however, the test is unlikely in the days ahead.

Kim stated to reporters that North Korea’s nuclear programs were still in development. Although the vertical progress is not evident, it’s important to keep making improvements and checking on them.”

He added, “That’s why sanctions matter. Restraining or slowing down that progress is our responsibility.”

Panda observed that Rodong Sinmun did not cover the North’s tests, which might suggest that Pyongyang isn’t seeking “internal propaganda benefits” from them.

Cheong, from the Sejong Institute said that China may also use silence to reduce its complaints and aid COVID.

The U.S. has offered COVID vaccinations and other medical supplies to North Korea, but North Korea has yet not responded. But the intelligence agency in Seoul told Congress last week that China is providing assistance.

Cheong stated that North Korea needed Chinese help to combat the COVID wave.