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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on March 10)

All News 07:10 March 10, 2020

Stop raising tension
: North Korea's rocket launches cannot be justified

North Korea fired three short-range projectiles into the East Sea, Monday, in what appeared to be a test of a new multiple rocket launcher.

This came a week after the North's military launched two short-range projectiles, March 2, with its leader Kim Jong-un in attendance, drawing criticism from the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) and some European countries. It was the North's first weapons test in three months.

Pyongyang should stop elevating tensions on the Korean Peninsula. These acts are even more deplorable because South Korea is currently struggling to contain the spread of the new coronavirus, and the world is gripped by fears of a global pandemic. The North should realize that raising military tensions at this time is not justifiable at all, and will only alienate itself further.

This also bodes ill for possible inter-Korean cooperation in fighting the virus. North Korea has not yet reported a COVID-19 infection, but there are suspicions that the virus may be already spreading there considering its long, porous border with China. According to medical experts, the North is more vulnerable to the new virus as it lacks medical supplies and infrastructure to test and treat infected people. If the situation becomes serious in the North, it may reach out to the South and the international community for help.

The latest provocation also raises doubts over the seriousness of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's commitment to inter-Korean reconciliation. Last week, Cheong Wa Dae said Kim had sent a personal letter to President Moon Jae-in, expressing his best wishes to the South in its fight against the virus outbreak, and reaffirming his "friendship and trust" toward Moon. He also reportedly expressed his "candid thoughts and positions" on the situation surrounding the peninsula, according to the presidential office.

North Korea's two-faced approach toward the South is nothing new. But what makes the situation more complicated is the rapid spread of the new virus. The North may claim the latest launches were meant to boost its self-defense capabilities, but they give the impression that it is obsessed with threatening tactics while other countries are struggling to fight the virus.

Of course, we should also pay attention to the new weapon the North is developing. According to the South Korean military, the projectiles were launched from Sondok on the North's east coast, and flew northeast before falling in waters between the North and Japan. They flew around 200 kilometers, reaching a maximum altitude of around 50 kilometers. Pyongyang has fallen short of describing the projectiles as ballistic missiles, but they are viewed as de facto guided short-range ballistic missiles in violation of UNSC resolutions, which requires a strong international response.

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