North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles toward the sea on Thursday, its neighbours said, in the latest of a series of weapons demonstrations this year that came just hours after it confirmed its first case of the coronavirus since the pandemic began.
The launches could underscore North Korea’s determination to press ahead with its efforts to expand its arsenal despite the virus outbreak to rally support behind the leader, Kim Jong-un, and keep up pressure on its rivals amid long-dormant nuclear diplomacy.
Thursday’s launches were the North’s first weapons fired since the inauguration of new conservative South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol on Tuesday.
The North Korean nuclear threat will likely top the agenda when Mr. Yoon meets visiting U.S. President Joe Biden in Seoul next week. Both South Korea and Japan condemned the launches. The missiles plunged into the waters between North Korea’s eastern coast and outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said.
South Korea’s military said it boosted its readiness and surveillance while maintaining close coordination with the U.S. It called on the North to immediately halt its repeated missile firings.
Earlier on Thursday, North Korean state media confirmed the country’s first COVID-19 infections as Mr. Kim ordered nationwide lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus.