SEOUL – The successful final testing of a new hypersonic missile by North Korea is a sign that the Kim Jong Un regime will continue work on boosting its nuclear capability as talks with the United States remain stalled, experts say.
over North Korea’s eastern coast, and the South Korean military said it flew for more than 700km at a maximum speed that was 10 times the speed of sound, or 12,348km per hour.
The test was condemned by the United States and five other countries, including Britain and Japan. They issued a statement calling on Pyongyang to “choose dialogue and peace over its unlawful and threatening weapons programme”.
North Korean state media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported Wednesday (Jan 12) that the “final test-fire” verified the “superior manoeuvrability of the hypersonic glide vehicle”, its overall technical specifications, and its ability to hit targets in water 1,000km away.
The North Korean leader reportedly ordered officials to “bolster the war deterrent of the country with their continued ultra-modern scientific research achievements”.
Mr Kim also stressed the need to “further accelerate efforts to steadily build up the country’s strategic military muscle both in quality and quantity”, according to KCNA.
Experts said– the first time since March 2020 that he was officially at one – was aimed at bolstering his political prowess as he enters the 11th year of his rule.
Associate professor of international studies Leif-Eric Easley at Ewha Womans University said the new North Korean weapon was “not technologically ready for deployment but state media hyped the latest test, personally supervised by Kim Jong Un, as ‘final verification’ of a new military capability”.
“This looks like classic North Korean box checking, claiming success of an agenda item from Kim’s earlier speech in an attempt to bolster political legitimacy and increase diplomatic pressure,” he said.
“Nonetheless, Pyongyang’s ability to threaten its neighbours continues to grow, underlining the urgency of US-South Korea-Japan cooperation on missile defence and the need for greater accountability in China and Russia’s enforcement of United Nations sanctions,” he added.
Mr Kim, who first assumed power in 2011, pledged to further develop the military while vowing to ease domestic hardship in a policy speech carried in state media on Jan 1.
There was little mention of foreign policy and inter-Korean ties, as negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington remained in deadlock after talks broke down in early 2019 over differences in sanctions relief.
Both sides insist that they remain open to dialogue, but the Kim regime has since focused on domestic economic woes and the Covid-19 pandemic.
Mr Chad O’Carroll, chief executive of Korea Risk Group, which monitors North Korea, noted that state newspaper Rodong Sinmun had carried photos of Mr Kim attending the hypersonic missile launch on its cover.