The first such test of long-range missiles in months causes anxiety among South Korean and Japanese officials.

People watch a TV screen showing a file image of a North Korean missile in a military parade during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021.
People watch a TV screen showing a file image of a North Korean missile in a military parade during a news program at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Aug. 30, 2021. (AP)

North Korea's neighbours and the United States reacted strongly on Monday after Pyongyang announced it successfully tested newly developed long-range cruise missiles over the weekend, the first known testing activity in months. 

South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong said that the resumption of testing activity illustrates an urgent need for reviving diplomacy with the North.

The US Indo-Pacific Command said it was monitoring the situation with allies and that the North Korean activity reflects a continuing focus on “developing its military program and the threats that poses to its neighbors and the international community.” 

Japan said it was “extremely concerned.”

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Katsunobu Kato said North Korean missiles of such range would pose a “serious threat to the peace and safety of Japan and its surrounding areas.”

He said Tokyo was working with Washington and Seoul to gather information on North Korea’s latest tests but said there was no immediate indication that the weapons reached inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

READ MORE: Why is North Korea’s nuclear programme such a threat?

While the cruise missiles were clearly aimed at sending a message to Washington, the tests may indicate that the North is struggling with more provocative weapons systems and might not garner much of a response, said Du Hyeogn Cha, an analyst at Seoul’s Asan Institute for Policy Studies.

China, the North's staunchest ally, didn’t comment on the missiles when asked. A spokesperson for its Foreign Ministry, Zhao Lijian, only urged “all parties concerned to exercise restraint, move in the same direction, actively engage in dialogue and contact” to reach a political settlement.

The international community is bent on getting the North to abandon its nuclear arsenal and has long used a combination of the threat of sanctions and the promise of economic help to try to influence the North. 

READ MORE: S.Korea in final stages of developing ballistic missile to deter N.Korea

But US-led negotiations on the nuclear issue have been stalled since the collapse of a summit between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and then-US President Donald Trump in 2019. 

North Korea ended a yearlong pause in ballistic tests in March by firing two short-range missiles into the sea. 

Kim’s government has so far rejected the US President Joe Biden administration’s overtures for dialogue, demanding that Washington abandon its “hostile” policies first — a reference to the US maintaining sanctions and a military alliance with South Korea.

The US keeps about 28,000 troops in South Korea to help deter potential aggression from North Korea, a legacy of the Korean War.

There hadn’t been any known test launches for months since March, as Kim focused his efforts on fending off the coronavirus and salvaging an economy damaged by sanctions, bad flooding in recent summers, and border closures amid the coronavirus pandemic.

Experts have warned that the economic situation is dire, although monitoring groups have yet to detect signs of mass starvation or major instability.

The report of the tests comes before Biden’s special representative for North Korea, Sung Kim, was to meet his South Korean and Japanese counterparts in Tokyo on Tuesday to discuss the stalled nuclear diplomacy with North Korea.

Source: TRTWorld and agencies