North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called for boosting the country’s strategic military forces as he observed the test of a hypersonic missile, state media said on Wednesday, officially attending a missile launch for the first time in nearly two years.
On Tuesday, authorities in South Korea and Japan detected the suspected launch, which drew condemnation by authorities around the world and prompted an expression of concern from the U.N. secretary-general.
The second test of a “hypersonic missile” in less than a week underscored Kim’s New Year’s vow to bolster the military with cutting-edge technology at a time when talks with South Korea and the United States have stalled.
After watching the test, Kim urged military scientists to “further accelerate the efforts to steadily build up the country’s strategic military muscle both in quality and quantity and further modernize the army,” KCNA news agency reported.
It was the first time since March 2020 that Kim had officially attended a missile test.
“His presence here would suggest particular attention on this programme,” Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the U.S.-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, posted on Twitter.
Unlike some other recent tests, ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun published photos of Kim attending the launch on its front page.
“While Kim probably unofficially attended other tests in the interim, this appearance and its Page One feature on Rodong Sinmun is important,” said Chad O’Carroll, chief executive of Korea Risk Group, which monitors North Korea. “It means Kim is not concerned about being personally associated (with) tests of major new tech. And doesn’t care how the U.S. sees this.”
U.N. Security Council resolutions ban all North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear tests and have imposed sanctions over the programs.
Talks aimed at persuading North Korea to surrender or limit its arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles have stalled, with Pyongyang saying it is open to diplomacy but only if the United States and its allies stop “hostile policies” such as sanctions or military drills.
U.S. Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland called the launches dangerous and destabilising.
“It obviously takes us in the wrong direction,” she said at a regular briefing in Washington on Tuesday. “As you know, the United States has been saying since this administration came in that we are open to dialogue with North Korea, that we are open to talking about Covid and humanitarian support, and instead they’re firing off missiles.”
The European Union on Tuesday condemned the latest North Korean missile launch as a “threat to international peace and security” and called on Pyongyang to resume diplomacy.