North Korea says hypersonic missile tested to modernise weaponry
North Korea said Thursday it has successfully launched a hypersonic missile as part of efforts to modernise its strategic weapons systems, days after leader Kim Jong Un vowed to bolster his military forces despite pandemic-related difficulties.
Wednesday's test, the North's first known weapons tests in about two months, indicates that the country will press ahead with plans to build powerful, sophisticated missiles rather than returning to disarmament talks anytime soon.
The official Korean Central News Agency said the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party expressed “great satisfaction” at the results of the missile test observed by leading weapons officials.
It's the second known test-flight of a hypersonic missile since North Korea first tested such a weapon last September. It wasn't immediately known if both are the exactly same type of hypersonic missile.
“The successive successes in the test launches in the hypersonic missile sector have strategic significance in that they hasten a task for modernizing strategic armed force of the state,” a KCNA dispatch said. The word “strategic” implies the missile is being developed to deliver nuclear weapons.
Hypersonic weapons, which fly at speeds in excess of Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, could pose crucial challenges to missile defence systems because of their speed and maneuverability.
It's unclear whether and how soon North Korea could manufacture such a high-tech missile, but it was among a wish-list of sophisticated military assets that Kim disclosed early last year, along with a multi-warhead missile, spy satellites, solid-fuelled long-range missiles and underwater-launched nuclear missiles.
The North's latest launch was first detected by its neighbours.
The US military called it a ballistic missile launch that “highlights the destabilising impact of (North Korea's) illicit weapons programme”. South Korea and Japan expressed concerns or regrets over the launch. UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres reiterated that North Korea should resume talks with other countries.
A US-led diplomacy on North Korea's nuclear programme remains stalled since 2019 due to disputes over international sanctions on the North. The Biden administration has repeatedly called for resuming the nuclear diplomacy “anywhere and at any time” without preconditions, but North Korea has argued the US must first withdraw its hostility against it before any talks can restart.
During last week's plenary meeting of the Central Committee of the ruling Workers' Party, Kim repeated his vow to expand his country's military capabilities without publicly presenting any new positions on Washington and Seoul.
The North's advancing nuclear arsenal is the core of Kim's rule, and he's called it “a powerful treasured sword” that thwarts potential US aggressions. During his 10-year rule, he's conducted an unusually large number of weapons tests to acquire an ability to launch nuclear strikes on the American mainland.
But his country's economy has been faltering severely in the past two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the sanctions and his government's own mismanagement.
North Korea is ramping up the production of drugs and medical supplies to combat the Covid-19 pandemic, which has wreaked havoc. According to the Korean Central News Agency on Thursday, North Korea is also increasing the production of traditional Korean medicines used to reduce fever and pain. In the capital city of Pyongyang and nearby regions, factories are churning out more injections, medicines and thermometers and other medical supplies.
Veteran diplomat Bridget Brink, who was nominated by US President Joe Biden to be the country's next ambassador to war-hit Ukraine, was on Wednesday (local time) given a unanimous approval by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee for appointment to the post, which means that she just a step away from being Washington's new representative in the east European nation. She was nominated by Biden on April 25.
Officials in Spain and Portugal announced on Wednesday that they have detected around 32 suspected cases of monkeypox, days after the UK reported new cases that have triggered concerns that there may be an undetected transmission in parts of Europe. Portugal had five confirmed and 20 suspected cases, Spain eight suspected cases and UK seven confirmed infections as on Wednesday.
US secretary of state Antony Blinken on Wednesday met Pakistan's foreign minister Bilawal Bhutto Zardari at the UN headquarters and their talks focussed on regional security as well as strengthening bilateral economic and commercial ties. Bilawal is on a maiden visit to the US at the invitation of Blinken to attend the ministerial meeting on the “Global Food Security Call to Action” to be held at the United Nations later on Wednesday.
The World Bank said on Wednesday it will make $30 billion available to help stem a food security crisis threatened by Russia's war in Ukraine, which has cut off most grain exports from the two countries. The total will include $12 billion in new projects and over $18 billion funds from existing food and nutrition-related projects that have been approved but have not yet been disbursed, the bank said.