North Korea likely spent $650m on flurry of missile launches this year

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North Korea may have spent up to $650m (£518m) on its flurry of missile launches this year, an amount that could be enough to provide its entire population with one dose of Covid-19, according to an analysis by a South Korean think tank.

Pyongyang spent between $400m (£319m) and $650m (£518m) on its missile tests, said the report released on Thursday by the government-funded Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (Kida) based in Seoul.

Kim Jong-un’s regime has escalated its missile activities with 18 rounds of tests already reported in 2022, higher than any other year in the past. Mr Kim is also expected to soon go ahead with the country’s first nuclear test since 2017, a move that can flare up tensions in the region further.

The tests have continued even after Pyongyang reported a Covid outbreak for the first time in May, and Mr Kim appeared to address the public with a mask. While millions of cases have been reported of what authorities call “fever”, experts believe the scale of the outbreak is still unknown.

Kida’s analysis estimates that around 50 per cent to 80 per cent of the total cost, between $208m and $325m, went into manufacturing the missiles. Labour costs would have been about 10 per cent to 30 per cent, it added.

The report points at the country’s misguided priorities during a pandemic and food crisis, stating that the amount could have been sufficient to inoculate its entire population with a single dose of the Covid-19 vaccine.

The country is suffering from a chronic food shortage as strict sanctions are imposed on Mr Kim’s regime in response to rising tensions in the region with Pyongyang’s frequent missile tests.

On Sunday, North Korea fired eight short-range ballistic missiles from four different locations in the space of 30 minutes, one of its largest-ever tests.

This led to a strong reaction from South Korea, Japan and the US as they flew warplanes, including stealth fighter jets, over waters around the Korean peninsula on Tuesday in a show of force.

Officials from the three countries also condemned Pyongyang’s missile tests, calling it “serious, unlawful” provocations, urging Mr Kim to return to dialogue and accept offers of Covid-19 aid.

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