North Korea last week fired two short-range ballistic missiles in waters off the coast of Japan.
These releases are the latest in an unusual series of tests.
UN bans North Korea from testing ballistic and nuclear weapons and has imposed strict sanctions.
but korea regularly defies the ban, and leader Kim Jong-un has vowed to bolster his country’s defenses.
He said he had fired short-range ballistic missiles from train cars, while days before he had conducted two tests of what claims they were hypersonic missiles, which are more difficult to detect.
nuclear and missile program
Why is North Korea launching missiles now?
the frequency of the tests and the moment chosen – the month of January – is unusual.
North Korea tends to conduct its missile launches to mark politically significant events in the country, or as a sign of their dissatisfaction with the US and South Korean military exercises.
North Korea typically tests missiles to build capabilities and maintain operational readiness, and the latest tests seem to bear this out, said Ankit Panda, an expert at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
But at the same time, “Kim Jong-un also has internal considerations: in a time of economic difficulty, these launches allow you to convey that national defense priorities will not be left behind,” Panda told the BBC.
North Korea is in trouble food shortages and a reeling economy.
This is due to a self-imposed lockdown to keep covid away that has cut off trade with China, its main economic and political ally, although there have been reports that activity between the two countries could resume soon.
Kim recently admitted that the country faced a “struggle to life or death”, and also promised to increase its military power, including the development of hypersonic missiles.
The talks with the United States, which wants North Korea gives up its nuclear weapons, have stagnated since Joe Biden assumed the presidency.
His administration imposed its first sanctions on North Korea recently, in response to some of the tests this month.
This has led to the belief that recent releases could be a “stronger reaction” to sanctions, showing that the country has no intention of being overtaken by the United States, said Park Won-gon, professor of North Korea studies at Ewha Womans University.
What are these tests for?
The launches were made only a few weeks before the Winter Olympics, a highly prestigious and politically sensitive event for China, which will kick off in Beijing on February 4.
“I can imagine that China would not welcome North Korea’s tests on the eve of the start of the Olympics in Beijing,” North Korea analyst Chad O’Carroll said on Twitter.
“If this continues, we should not exclude the possibility that [Corea del Norte] may be upset with China about something”.
But Panda said that while “Beijing may not be happy with these tests, they are likely to be tolerable enough,” given that they do not involve tests of nuclear weapons or long-range missiles.
Two types of evidence that the analyst believes are “China’s red lines.”
Partners in crime?
With recent reports that North Korea could resume trade with China soon, “this timing suggests that Beijing is more than complicit in Pyongyang’s provocations. China is supporting North Korea economically and coordinating with it militarily,” North Korea affairs expert Leif-Eric Easley told the BBC.
“Considering his strategic relationship with ChinaNorth Korea’s leaders are likely to finish their early 2022 military exercises and missile tests before the Winter Olympics.”
“The timing also suggests that North Korea doesn’t want to stay quiet ahead of South Korea’s presidential election (March 9) or show up on life support while China sends aid across the border.”
This note was prepared with information from Tessa Wong and BBC Korean.