North Korea fired several short-range missiles off its east coast on Tuesday, a day before South Korea is scheduled to hold elections for its 300-seat Parliament.
The projectiles, launched from the town of Munchon, were believed to be cruise missiles, the South Korean military said in a statement.
Under a series of United Nations resolutions, North Korea is banned from testing ballistic — but not cruise — missiles. Thus, its launchings on Tuesday were considered less provocative than its recent tests of ballistic missiles.
But South Koreans remain sensitive to any move by the North to raise tensions during an election time for fear it might sway how voters cast their ballots.
South Korea has decided to go ahead with voting on Wednesday even though many other countries, including Britain and France, have postponed elections because of the coronavirus epidemic.
South Korea is not in lockdown, and its governing Democratic Party is hoping that the country’s successful efforts to contain the virus early will help its candidates on Wednesday, bolstering President Moon Jae-in’s grip on power.
Voters are being required to wear masks and use sanitizer and plastic gloves before casting their ballots. Those under self-quarantine will be allowed to leave their homes with government escorts to vote after 6 pm Wednesday when the balloting for the general public ends.
Nearly 27 per cent of the country’s 44 million eligible voters already cast their ballots on Friday and Saturday in advance voting to avoid the crowds on Wednesday.
North Korea carried out no weapons tests in 2018, when its leader, Kim Jong-un, was engaged in diplomacy with President Trump. But it resumed short-range missile launches last May, three months after Mr Kim’s second summit with M. Trump, held in Vietnam, collapsed over differences on how to denuclearize North Korea and when to ease American-led international sanctions.
North Korea began large-scale live-fire military training last month as the coronavirus pandemic was raging in much of the world, including in neighbouring China and South Korea. It has since conducted five weapons tests that involved short-range missiles or rockets, including the one on Tuesday.
North Korea has claimed it has no coronavirus cases, but Mr Kim convened the Political Bureau of his ruling Workers’ Party on Saturday, calling for stricter enforcement of measures against the epidemic. When the North’s rubber-stamp parliament, the Supreme People’s Assembly, met on Sunday, it made the same vow. It also increased the budgets for defence and public health.