South Korea’s military said Thursday that three short-range ballistic missiles were fired from near Pyongyang. These new tests are part of a “permanent provocation to fire ballistic missiles, despite the outbreak of the coronavirus”, estimated the administration of President Yoon Suk-yeol.

The launch, which would be the sixteenth since January, comes shortly after Washington warned of the risk of an imminent nuclear test from Pyongyang and the same day of the revelation of Covid-19 cases in the country.

The specter of nuclear testing

By launching a missile just after reporting its first Covid cases, Pyongyang wants to show that “the fight against the coronavirus and its national defense objective are two separate things”, said Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies.

“It is now reasonable to think that it could also carry out a nuclear test with the green light from Kim Jong-un at any time,” he added. Analysts say the health crisis in North Korea could disrupt the country’s weapons tests.

“Deflect Fear” with Big Missiles

Pyongyang has already carried out more than a dozen weapons tests this year, including a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile, for the first time since 2017. Satellite images indicate North Korea is preparing to carry out a nuclear test, which could take place as early as this month, according to Washington.

“It is possible that the nuclear test will be delayed in order to focus on containing the coronavirus,” Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul, told AFP. But he added that if people’s fears of an outbreak spread, Kim Jong-un could conduct a trial “to deflect that fear”.

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