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North Korea’s last known major missile tests occurred in March, when it fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea. Photo: AP

North Korea’s no-sail warning expires without missile launches, suggesting ‘technical glitches’

  • North Korea usually issues a no-sail advisory before missile launches or other weapons tests to warn vessels to stay clear of certain areas
  • South Korea and the US have been conducting joint military drills, which North Korea has long denounced as rehearsals for invasion
North Korea
North Korea issued a no-sail zone for ships off its east coast earlier this week, indicating possible missile or artillery tests in response to joint South Korea-US military exercises. No further action has been reported, leading experts to suggest Pyongyang may have identified “technical glitches at the last moment”.

The warning was issued for Sunday and Monday, affecting the East Sea (Sea of Japan), Yonhap reported, citing South Korean military sources. A spokesman for Seoul’s defence ministry declined to comment on “matters of military intelligence”.

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“The North’s military is still engaging in summertime military exercises,” he said. “South Korean and US intelligence authorities are in close cooperation in monitoring the North’s military movements.”

Japan’s Coast Guard also issued a navigational warning in the Sea of Japan for August 20 and August 22-25, citing possible North Korean missile tests.

North Korea has condemned South Korea and the US for conducting joint military drills, vowing to “make them realise by the minute what a dangerous choice they made and what a serious security crisis they will face because of their wrong choice”.


Yang Uk, a defence analyst at the Korea Defence Forum, said the North often seizes on US-South Korea military exercises as a pretext to test missiles or other weapons.

“The North may have found some technical glitches at the last moment as it was preparing weapons tests,” he said.

“A political decision has already been made to carry out such tests timed with the US-South Korea military exercises,” Yang said, ruling out any possibility that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un changed his mind.

North Korea usually issues a no-sail warning before missile launches or other weapons tests to warn vessels to stay clear of certain areas.

However, Professor Yang Moo-jin of the University of North Korean Studies noted that missile tests might still be conducted, even after the no-sail warning has expired.


“We can’t say there will be no missile tests during the US-South Korea joint military drills,” he said. “But the North is likely to limit itself to testing short-range missiles to avoid crossing the red line [of long-range tests].”

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Yang Uk said North Korea could test a modified version of the radar-evasive, 500km KN-23 missile. Alternatively, it could test a new submarine-launched ballistic missile called the Pukguksong-5. Both weapons were first rolled out during a military parade in January.


The North’s last known major missile tests took place in March, when it fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the East Sea after Seoul and Washington staged combined exercises.

This year’s US-South Korea exercises, which were scaled down due to the Covid-19 pandemic, began on Monday and will continue next week with a counter-attack scenario. North Korea has long denounced such drills as rehearsals for invasion.

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Test delay may point to technical ‘glitch’