The timing chosen is too symbolic to be trivial. North Korea fired three ballistic missiles towards the Sea of ​​Japan on Wednesday, May 25, hours after US President Joe Biden left the region.

The South Korean general staff said that these projectiles had been launched at 6 a.m. (11 p.m., Tuesday evening, in Paris), 6:37 a.m., and 6:42 a.m. from Sunan, in the suburbs of Pyongyang, in the direction of from the Sea of ​​Japan, but did not specify what exact types of missiles they were. The Japanese Coast Guard mentioned a “possible ballistic missile”, and asked the ships to stay away from any debris that fell into the sea.

South Korean President Yoon Seok-youl immediately called a meeting of the National Security Council, his office said.

The North Korean regime, under United Nations (UN) sanctions over its weapons programs, has ramped up missile testing in recent months, blaming the “hostile” attitude of the United States. He tested an intercontinental ballistic missile in March for the first time since 2017. And South Korean and American intelligence services suspect him of planning an imminent nuclear test, which would also be his first in five years.

Washington open to dialogue

The US government had said in recent days that it expected a “provocation” from Pyongyang during or just after the stay of Joe Biden, who completed a tour of South Korea and Japan on Tuesday evening. During his stay in Seoul, the American president and his new South Korean counterpart, according to the latter, discussed an intensification of their joint military exercises, as well as the deployment in the peninsula of fighter planes or missiles, “to prepare for a nuclear attack”.

An increase in American-South Korean maneuvers risks angering Pyongyang, which considers these exercises as dress rehearsals for the invasion. These maneuvers have been reduced in recent years due to the pandemic, and to allow the predecessors of MM. Biden and Yoon, – Donald Trump and Moon Jae-in –, to attempt a rapprochement with North Korea.

Shortly before leaving South Korea on Sunday for Japan, Joe Biden had sent a singular message to Kim Jong-un. Asked by a journalist who asked him if he had a message for the North Korean leader, the president replied with a laconic: “Hello. Period “. A way of making it known that Washington remains open to dialogue with North Korea, even in the absence of reciprocity.

Talks with Pyongyang have stalled since a failed 2019 summit between Mr Kim and then-US President Donald Trump. The North Korean regime ignored all offers of dialogue made by Washington.

The unknown of the health crisis

During his trip to South Korea, Mr. Biden also said that Washington had offered to provide vaccines against Covid-19 to North Korea, but had “not received a response”. Since early May, more than three million people have been stricken with “fever”, as state media term it, and 68 have died from it in North Korea, according to the latest official report released on Wednesday.

The country, whose 25 million inhabitants are not vaccinated, has completely cut itself off from the world since the start of the pandemic to protect itself against the virus, but the outbreak of contamination with the Omicron variant in neighboring countries has ended up defeat this strategy.

The way in which this health crisis will influence the military decisions of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is the great unknown that the Americans, South Koreans and Japanese are trying to clarify.

On May 12, North Korea conducted a ballistic missile test the same day leader Kim first declared an “emergency” over the Covid outbreak.