Asia Minute: Not Just the Coronavirus on the Korean Peninsula

Mar 3, 2020

Mention Korea these days and most people are likely to think of the coronavirus. But there’s international news on the peninsula this week that’s not directly related to the virus.

North Korea launched its first two projectiles of the year into the ocean waters off the east coast of the Korean peninsula on Monday. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said they were “believed to be short-range ballistic missiles.”

It’s the first test like this since November, and it comes just a few days after the U.S. and South Korea cancelled joint military exercises because of the coronavirus. U.S. Forces Korea said the suggestion to suspend the drills came from South Korea’s top generals.

North Korea has been holding its own military exercises in recent days. And the launch itself was not an entire shock to the United States.

Nearly six weeks ago, the head of the North American Aerospace Defense Command gave written testimony to the Senate Armed Services Committee warning that North Korea had recently tested rocket engines and appeared to be preparing for a launch of some kind.

In the time since, coronavirus has become a much bigger regional focus.

Last week, the first U.S. military member to have contracted the virus was identified as a soldier in South Korea.

U.S. forces in South Korea are currently restricted in their travel, and are not allowed to attend non-essential events with more than 20 people.