US condemns North Korea after it launches largest missile test since 2017

30 January 2022, 07:51 | Updated: 30 January 2022, 13:54

North Korea has launched what appeared to be the most powerful missile it has tested since US President Joe Biden took office.
North Korea has launched what appeared to be the most powerful missile it has tested since US President Joe Biden took office. Picture: Alamy

By Sophie Barnett

North Korea has launched a suspected ballistic missile into the sea off its east coast, understood to be the most powerful missile it has tested since US President Joe Biden took office.

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The Japanese and South Korean militaries said the missile was launched on a lofted trajectory, apparently to avoid the territorial spaces of neighbours.

It was the North's seventh round of weapons launches this month, reaching a maximum altitude of 2,000 kilometres (1,242 miles) and travelling 800 kilometres (497 miles) before landing in the sea.

Experts say North Korea's unusually fast pace in testing activity underscores an intent to pressure Joe Biden's administration over long-stalled negotiations aimed at exchanging a release of crippling US-led sanctions for the North's denuclearisation steps.

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Sunak 'brands partygate unsurvivable for PM and plans his leadership campaign'. Picture: Getty

The renewed pressure comes as the pandemic further shakes the North's economy, which was already battered by the sanctions over its nuclear weapons programme and decades of mismanagement by its government.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called an emergency National Security Council meeting where he described the test as a possible "midrange ballistic missile launch" that brought North Korea to the brink of breaking its 2018 suspension in the testing of nuclear devices and longer-range ballistic missiles.

Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters it was clear that the missile was the longest-range weapon the North has tested since launching its Hwasong-15 ICBM in November 2017.

The launch came three days after North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Thursday. The North also flight-tested a pair of purported long-range cruise missiles on Tuesday while vowing to strengthen its nuclear "war deterrent" and build more powerful weapons.

“The United States condemns these actions and calls on [North Korea] to refrain from further destabilising acts,” the US military’s Indo-Pacific command said in a statement after Sunday’s launch.

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Experts say the North could halt its testing spree after the start of the Beijing Winter Olympics next week out of respect for China, its major ally and economic lifeline.

But there is also expectation that the North could significantly up the ante in weapons demonstrations once the Olympics end in February to grab the attention of the Biden administration, which has been focusing more on confronting China and Russia over its conflict with Ukraine.

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