North Korea appears to be pausing its tests during the Winter Olympics in China, its most important ally and economic lifeline. But analysts believe North Korea will dramatically increase its weapons testing after the Olympics.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that North Korea had fired a suspected ballistic missile toward the sea off its east coast from a location near Sunan, where Pyongyang's international airport is located.
The report comes amid signs North Korea could soon resume nuclear testing according to South Korean and US officials and after Kim broke a self-imposed moratorium on intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) testing with a launch last month.
Experts say Kim is providing special treatment to elite North Koreans to boost their loyalty as he grapples with the pandemic, a troubled economy and a stalemate in nuclear diplomacy with the United States.
Kim Yo Jong, a senior official in the government and ruling party, said it was a "very big mistake" for South Korea's minister of defence to make recent remarks discussing attacks on the North, state news agency KCNA reported.
The influential sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called the South Korean defence minister a "scum-like guy” for talking about preemptive strikes on the North, warning on Sunday that the South may face "a serious threat.”
North Korea has ramped up its weapons demonstrations to a record pace this year, launching more than 40 ballistic missiles, including developmental intercontinental ballistic missiles and an intermediate-range missile fired over Japan.
One short-range ballistic missile crossed the Northern Limit Line, the de facto maritime border between the two countries, prompting a rare warning for residents on the island of Ulleungdo to seek shelter in bunkers.
The launches are the latest in a series of North Korean weapons tests in recent months that have raised tensions in the region. They came a day after Pyongyang fired more than 20 missiles, the most it has fired in a single day ever.