June 9, 2017 2:07 am JST

Behind Pyongyang's missile-testing binge

Flexing muscles while keeping door open to dialogue

KENICHI YAMADA, Nikkei staff writer

Tanks carry what are believed to be cruise missiles in a North Korean military parade on April 15. © Kyodo

SEOUL -- North Korea launched several cruise missiles into the Sea of Japan on Thursday, marking a fourth straight week of tests involving five different types of projectiles in a likely effort to showcase its military might.

The missiles were fired at around 6:18 a.m. from the eastern city of Wonsan, according to sources including the South Korean military. They reached a maximum altitude of about 2km and traveled roughly 200km northeast before falling into the sea.

The projectiles were believed to have been cruise missiles, which fly parallel to the ground using jet engines. North Korea is said to possess such missiles with a roughly 100km range for use against targets including aircraft carriers. Thursday's test may point to improvement in its technology.

Pyongyang likely wanted to demonstrate its ability to target American warships by testing different types of missiles, a spokesman for South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said. North Korea was likely responding to this month's deployment of the USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan nuclear carriers by the U.S. in the Sea of Japan.

North Korea test-fired the Hwasong-12 medium- to long-range ballistic missile May 14, followed by the Pukguksong-2 on May 21. The latter runs on solid fuel using technology adapted from the North's submarine-based missiles. On May 29, a Scud-class missile believed to employ a precision guidance system was launched.

The Hwasong-12 could travel as far as 5,000km, according to South Korea's Ministry of National Defense. This puts the U.S. state of Alaska within range, and Washington is concerned by what it considers the clear and realistic threat posed by North Korea.

Despite its unusually aggressive streak of testing, North Korea still appears mindful not to cross a red line with Washington. Pyongyang said it would continue with missile tests until the U.S. makes the right choice, suggesting an openness to dialogue.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in met with the National Security Council Thursday afternoon and urged vigilance against additional tests. But he also said that if North Korea is willing to abandon nuclear weapons, the South would take a leading role to help it gain support from the international community.

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