(ATTN: UPDATES throughout with views by S. Korean gov't official, expert)
By Song Sang-ho
SEOUL, May 26 (Yonhap) -- North Korea's state media outlets kept mum Thursday on the nation's latest ballistic missile launches, including an apparent intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), as a South Korean government official raised the possibility of "political" considerations behind Pyongyang's silence.
The North's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA), Korean Central Television and Rodong Sinmun, the daily of the country's ruling Workers' Party, have made no mention yet of the launches the previous day, which marked the North's 17th show of force this year.
The South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said Wednesday the North fired the suspected ICBM and two apparent short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea in the morning. The first of the three missiles appears to be the North's newest Hwasong-17 ICBM, according to sources.
Commenting on the North's silence about the launches, the official at Seoul's unification ministry presumed it might be attributable to the Kim Jong-un regime's "political calculations."
"As for the reporting, (the North) could not help but give greater consideration to its political calculations than to military, technological requirements," the official told reporters on condition of anonymity. "It is presumed that the absence of reports might have been attributable to the North's assessment of inter-Korean relations, the Korean Peninsula situation and the internal circumstances." The official did not elaborate.
Some observers here cited a recent COVID-19 outbreak in the North as a possible reason why the North has desisted from boasting publicly about major weapons tests.
"Missile launches might not be viewed positively by (ordinary) North Koreans who are taking pains to cope with COVID-19," Park Won-gon, a professor of North Korea studies at Ewha Womans University, said. "COVID-19 could be more serious than thought and can potentially pose a domestic political challenge to the regime."
The North's silence on the launches also appears to suggest that Pyongyang could seek to routinize such provocations as "self-defense" efforts and continue to forge ahead with its defense development scheme regardless of domestic or external reactions, according to analysts.
The KCNA, the North's official mouthpiece, usually starts its morning news cycle with reports on key events that took place the previous day, such as leader Kim Jong-un's public activities or major weapons tests.
On March 25, the North's media outlets even released a video where leader Kim, flanked by top military officers, strutted with a road-mobile ICBM behind him -- a highly choreographed move to claim success in an ICBM test the previous day.
The North's media, however, has tended to remain silent when a launch was deemed to have failed.
On March 16, the country conducted an unsuccessful test-firing of a suspected long-range missile. The following day, the KCNA and others did not issue any reports on the test.
Particularly this month, the North has not released any report on weapons tests.
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