In the majestic belly of Beijing’s Great Hall of the People, where all of China’s top political figures are currently gathered for the annual National People’s Congress (NPC) legislative session, Premier Li Keqiang kicked off proceedings Sunday by warning of “more complicated and graver situations” and “many uncertainties … both inside and outside China.”
Right on cue, North Korea gave a perfect example: launching four ballistic missiles some 1,000 km into the sea off its eastern coast on Monday, three of which fell within Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone. They are believed part of tests to develop a nuclear-armed missile capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.
The timing of the launch during China’s biggest political event of the year will no doubt irk the Beijing leadership. But it was likely also prompted by the huge military drills that have just kicked off between Washington and Seoul, which Pyongyang insists are a dress rehearsal for invasion. In response, North Korea’s state news agency KCNA had already threatened to “turn the stronghold of provocation into a heap of ashes through [a] preemptive nuclear strike.”
“It wouldn’t be the first time North Korea has done something like this,” says Daniel Pinkston, an East Asia specialist at Troy University in Seoul, of the missiles’ timing. “There is the political dimension to these types of missile tests.”
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