On Jan. 25, the South Korean military news said North Korea fired two suspected cruise missiles—the fifth time North Korea has fired a missile in January 2022.

The Yonhap news agency reported that North Korea may have launched the missile between 8 a.m. and 9 a.m. on Tuesday. The South Korean military says it is keeping a close eye on the situation and is on high alert. 

Previously, North Korean state media boasted of successful hypersonic missile launches on Jan. 5 and 11, a short-range ballistic missile launched from a rail car on Jan. 14, and another short-range ballistic missile launched from Pyongyang’s Sunan airport on Jan. 17.

In the latest test, the launch gap narrowed to 4 minutes, showing that North Korea has improved its ability to fire many missiles and strengthened its ability to protect itself from a U.S.-South Korean counterattack.

What signal does North Korea send to the world?

Cha Du-hyeogn, a principal fellow at the Seoul-based Asan Institute for Policy Studies, wrote in a recent paper, “North Korea hopes that if it continues to demonstrate its nuclear capabilities but confines them to the Korean Peninsula, it will not aggravate public opinion in the United States and will strengthen voices there calling for a compromise.”

The New York Times analyzed that in order for this strategy to work, Kim Jong-un needs continued help from the Chinese Communist Party to resist any new international sanctions.

Because of the pandemic, North Korea faced an even greater economic challenge when it closed its border with China two years ago. This month, Beijing confirmed that “through friendly consultations,” China and North Korea reopened their border for freight trains.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul said, “This timing suggests Beijing is more than complicit with Pyongyang’s provocations. Instead, China supports North Korea economically and coordinates with it militarily.”

The New York Times quoted Lee Sung-yoon, a North Korea expert at Tufts University, as saying, “2022 calls for continued saber-rattling, punctuated by some major missile tests,”

Lee added, “Kim’s goal is to routinize short-range ballistic missile flights as a fact of life without any repercussions, after which he will move on to bigger provocations by resuming intermediate–and long-range missile tests punctuated by a nuclear test, as he did in 2017.”

Choi Yong-hwan, an analyst at the Institute for National Security Strategy​ in Seoul, wrote in a recent policy paper, “By advancing its nuclear capabilities and weapons systems, North Korea is showing the United States and South Korea that the more time passes, ​the bigger the price ​will become that they have to pay.”

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