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North Korea has claimed that it successfully tested a new hypersonic missile called Hwasong-8 on September 28.

According to state media, the new missile was one of the “five most important” new weapons systems laid out in its five-year military development plan.

The North Koreans called the missile a “strategic weapon”, which usually means it has nuclear capabilities.

The launch is another indication of Pyongyang’s growing weapons technology amid strict sanctions.

“The development of this weapons system…[has increased] the nation’s capabilities for self-defense in every way,” North Korean state news outlet KCNA said.

The latest launch also saw North Korea introducing missile fuel ampoule for the first time.

This is a technology that allows missiles to be pre-fuelled and then sent to the field in canisters. This means it could potentially stay launch-ready for years.

The launch also marked North Korea’s third missile test this month. It has already revealed a new type of cruise missile, as a well as a new train-launched ballistic missile system.

The event came as its North Korean envoy Kim Song defended his country’s right to develop weapons at the annual UN General Assembly in New York.

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Kim Song said North Korea was “building up our national defense in order to defend ourselves and reliably safeguard the security and peace of the country”.

Hypersonic missiles are much faster and more agile than normal ones, making them much harder for missile defense systems to intercept.

North Korea joins a small pool of countries, including the US, Russia, China and India, in attempting to develop the weapons. In July, Russia announced that it had successfully launched a hypersonic missile which reached a speed of 8659.88km/h (5381mph) from a frigate in the White Sea.

KCNA said the test launch confirmed the “navigational control and stability of the missile”.

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North Korea has announced it will skip the Tokyo Olympics this year, saying the decision is to protect its athletes from Covid-19.

Pyongyang’s decision puts an end to South Korea’s hopes of using the Games to engage with the North amid stalled cross-border talks.

In 2018, North and South Korea entered a joint team at the Winter Olympics which led to a series of historic summits.

North Korea says it has no cases of the virus but experts say this is unlikely.

The announcement makes North Korea the first major country to skip the delayed 2020 Games because of the pandemic. The event is due to begin on 23 July.

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This will be the first time North Korea has missed a Summer Olympics since 1988, when it boycotted the Seoul Games during the Cold War.

According to a report by the state-run site Sports in the DPRK, the decision was made at an Olympic committee meeting on March 25.

North Korea has taken stringent measures against the coronavirus since it broke out last year.

It shut its borders in late January and later quarantined hundreds of foreigners in its capital.

Since early 2020, trains and wagons have been forbidden to enter or leave North Korea, with most international passenger flights stopped as well.

There were hopes from South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in that the Games could be a catalyst for progress between both Koreas.

That had been the case in 2018, when North Korea sent 22 athletes to the Winter Olympics in South Korea, along with government officials, journalists and a 230-member cheering group.

Among the contingent was North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong – a move which helped it initiate diplomacy with South Korea and the US.

The talks that followed led to a series of historic, high-profile meetings between Kim Jong-un and former President Donald Trump.

There were hopes for improved relations after the meetings, but nothing materialized and the atmosphere has since deteriorated.

Meanwhile, in Japan, an Olympic preparatory event was canceled after Covid infections broke out at a training camp for the Japanese water polo team – with seven people testing positive for the virus.

It follows the announcement that the Osaka leg of the Olympic torch relay will be canceled after infections in the city hit record highs.

There have been growing concerns in Japan that more infectious strains of the virus could be driving a potential fourth Covid-19 wave in the country.

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North Korea has claimed the missiles it launched on March 25 were a “new-type tactical guided projectile”, in its first statement since the test.

It was the country’s first ballistic launch in almost a year and the first since Joe Biden became US President.

President Biden has said the US will “respond accordingly”. The US, Japan and South Korea have condemned the tests.

Under UN Security Council resolutions, North Korea is banned from testing ballistic missiles.

North Korea’s statement on March 26, issued through state media outlet KCNA, says the two weapons struck a test target 373 miles off North Korea’s east coast, disputing Japanese assessments that they flew just over 240 miles.

It added that the new missile is able to carry a payload of 2.5 tons, which would make it capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

“The development of this weapon system is of great significance in bolstering up the military power of the country and deterring all sorts of military threats,” Ri Pyong Chol, the senior leader who oversaw the test, was quoted as saying.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un was not present.

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President Biden told reporters that the launch was a violation of UN resolutions and that the US was consulting with partners and allies.

“There will be responses – if they choose to escalate, we will respond accordingly,” he said.

“But I’m also prepared for some form of diplomacy, but it has to be conditioned upon the end result of denuclearization.”

It remains unclear what exact type of missile the North Koreans have launched. State media said it had an “improved version of a solid fuel engine” and described it as a tactical guided missile that could perform “gliding and pull-up” maneuvers, which could mean it is harder to intercept.

However, the test highlights the progress North Korea’s weapons program has seen since denuclearization talks with the US stalled under former President Donald Trump.

Analysts have suggested the missiles were the same as the ones unveiled at a military parade in the capital Pyongyang in October 2020.

“If that is the case, they appear to have an improved variant of the previously tested KN-23 missile with a really big warhead,” Jeffrey Lewis of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS) told Reuters.

Such a new missile would allow North Korea to put heavier nuclear warheads on its rockets, Vipin Narang, a security studies professor at MIT said on Twitter.

Developing miniaturized nuclear warheads is difficult, although some observers believe that North Korea has this capability already.

North Korea last fired ballistic missiles a year ago amid stalled relations between then-US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

The Biden administration says it has unsuccessfully tried to make diplomatic contact with North Korea.

North Korea has yet to acknowledge that Joe Biden is now in office, and the two countries remain at loggerheads over the North’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.

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North Korea has unveiled a new submarine-launched ballistic missile, described by state media as “the world’s most powerful weapon”.

According to state media, several of the missiles were displayed at a parade overseen by leader Kim Jong-un.

The new weapon’s actual capabilities remain unclear, as it is not known to have been tested.

The show of military strength comes days before Joe Biden’s inauguration.

It also follows a rare political meeting where Kim Jong-un decried the US as his country’s “biggest enemy”.

Images released by North Korean state media showed at least four large black-and-white missiles being driven past flag-waving crowds.

Clad in a leather coat and fur hat, Kim Jong-un is pictured smiling and waving as he watched the display in Pyongyang’s Kim Il Sung Square, which also included infantry troops, artillery and tanks.

The official Korean Central News Agency said: “The world’s most powerful weapon, submarine-launch ballistic missile, entered the square one after another, powerfully demonstrating the might of the revolutionary armed forces.”

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The event on January 14 did not showcase North Korea’s largest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). That colossal weapon is believed to be able to deliver a nuclear warhead to anywhere in the US, and its size had surprised even seasoned analysts when it was put on show last year.

North Korea’s latest display of its arsenal comes at the end of a five-yearly congress of the ruling Workers’ Party.

In his address to members last week, Kim Jong-un had pledged to expand North Korea’s nuclear weapons and military potential, outlining a list of desired weapons including long-range ballistic missiles capable of being launched from land or sea and “super-large warheads”.

He also said that the US was North Korea’s “biggest obstacle for our revolution and our biggest enemy… no matter who is in power, the true nature of its policy against North Korea will never change”.

Under Kim Jong-un’s leadership North Korea has made rapid progress in its weapons program, which it says is necessary to defend itself against a possible US invasion.

According to experts, the unveiling of the new missiles appears designed to send the incoming Biden administration a message of North Korea’s growing military prowess.

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Kim Yo-jong, the younger sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, has received more responsibilities in the government, South Korea’s spy agency claims.

Kim Jong-un still maintains “absolute authority”, but handed various policy areas to others to reduce his stress levels, the spy agency reportedly said.

Kim Yo-jong is now “steering overall state affairs”, the National Intelligence Service added.

However, South Korea’s spy agency has been wrong about North Korea in the past.

The claims were reportedly made during a closed-door briefing on August 20 to South Korea’s National Assembly.

Lawmakers then discussed the assessment with journalists.

The agency was quoted as saying: “Kim Jong-un is still maintaining his absolute authority, but some of it has been handed over little by little.”

Kim Yo-jong now has responsibility for Pyongyang’s policy towards the US and South Korea, among other policy issues, and is “the de-facto number two leader,” it added, although it stressed that Kim Jong-un had “not selected a successor.”

The North Korean leader’s decision to delegate was in part to “relieve stress from his reign and avert culpability in the event of policy failure,” it said.

However, some analysts have been skeptical of the intelligence, with website NKNews noting that Kim Yo-jong appeared to have missed two important meetings this month, leading to speculation from some observers that she may have been demoted.

Image source EPA

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Kim Yo-jong is the younger sister of Kim Jong-un and the only one of his siblings considered a close and powerful ally.

Born in 1987, she is four years younger than Kim Jong-un. The two of them lived and studied in Bern, Switzerland, at the same time.

Kim Yo-jong first gained international attention in 2018, when she was the first member of the Kim dynasty to visit South Korea.

She was part of the delegation to the Winter Olympics, where North and South competed as a joint team.

Kim Yo-jong also worked alongside her brother at international summits, including his meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in, China’s Xi Jinping and President Donald Trump.

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North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has suspended plans for “military action” against South Korea, state news agency KCNA reported.

Recent weeks saw a rising tide of angry rhetoric from North Korea over activist plans to send leaflets with anti-North Korean messages over the border.

Last week, North Korea blew up the joint liaison office with South Korea and also threatened to send troops to the border area.

At a meeting chaired by leader Kim Jong-un, state media said the decision was taken to suspend military action.

The Central Military Commission made its decision after taking what it called the “prevailing situation” into consideration.

Image source Wikimedia

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North Korea also began to dismantle loudspeakers it had erected only last week, traditionally used to blast anti-South Korean messages over the border, Yonhap reported.

The move represents a notable de-escalation in rhetoric after Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong’s orders to the army to “decisively carry out the next action” – in part because of what Pyongyang said was Seoul’s failure to stop activists floating balloons with anti-regime leaflets over the border.

The meeting also discussed documents outlining measures for “further bolstering the war deterrent of the country,” KCNA reported.

Tensions between North and South Korea appeared to be on the mend when in 2018, leaders of both countries met for the first time at the border.

The historic summit saw both sides pledge to rid the Korean peninsula of nuclear weapons – and in the months that followed, there were efforts to improve ties and maintain dialogue.

However, the relationship has been on a downward spiral after a failed summit between Kim Jong-un and President Donald Trump.

And the past few weeks saw relations deteriorate especially rapidly – prompted by defector groups in South Korea sending propaganda across the border,

South Korean activists typically send balloons that carry objects like leaflets, USB sticks or DVDs with criticism of the Pyongyang regime, as well as South Korean news reports or even Korean dramas.

All of this is aimed at breaking North Korea’s control on domestic information with the hope that people might eventually topple the regime from within.

The South Korean government has already tried to stop groups sending leaflets across the border, arguing their actions put residents near the border at risk. The move prompted North Korea to renew threats of military action – and shortly afterwards it blew up a joint liaison office that it had established with South Korea in 2018.

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North Korea has blown up a joint liaison office with South Korea near the border town of Kaesong.

The incident comes just hours after North Korea renewed threats of military action at the Korean border.

The site was opened in 2018 to help the Koreas – officially in a state of war – to communicate. The joint liaison office had been empty since January due to Covid-19 restrictions.

In a statement, South Korea warned it would “respond strongly” if North Korea “continues to worsen the situation”.

The destruction of the office, the statement said, “abandons the hopes of everyone who wanted the development of inter-Korean relations and peace settlement in the Korean Peninsula”.

“The government makes it clear that all responsibility of this situation lies in the North.”

Image source Wikimedia

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Russia expressed concern at the renewed tensions between the Koreas.

Dmitry Peskov, a spokesman for Russian President Vladimir Putin, said on June 16: “We call for restraint from all the sides.”

Tensions between North and South Korea have been escalating for weeks, prompted by defector groups in the South sending propaganda across the border.

Kim Jong-un’s sister, Kim Yo-jong – considered a close and powerful ally – threatened at the weekend to demolish the office.

There were hopes for improved relations between North Korea and South Korea and its close ally the US after President Donald Trump met Kim Jong-un at the North-South border last June, but nothing materialized and the atmosphere has since deteriorated.

North Korea is under crippling US and UN economic sanctions over its militarized nuclear program. Washington has not yet commented on the North’s latest action.

In recent weeks, North Korea has repeatedly condemned South Korea for allowing propaganda into its territory.

Defector groups regularly send such material via balloons, or even drones, into North Korea.