Timeline: North Korea’s weaponised diplomacy

North Korea has ramped up missile tests since Kim Jong Un became leader 10 years ago.

Television screens show file footage of North Korean missile tests after Japan said Pyongyang had launched a ballistic missile [Jung Yeon-je/AFP]

North Korea has launched two ballistic missiles into the sea Japan said on Thursday as the new Biden administration in the US entered the final stages of its policy review on the reclusive nuclear-armed state.

“My sense is that this is probably North Korea’s testing of a new US president,” Robert Kelly, a professor of political science at South Korea’s Pusan National University told Al Jazeera.

“Whenever there is a new president in the US, or South Korea, North Korea usually pulls some of kind of provocation. They want to say: ‘We’re still here’.”

Below are the key moments in North Korea’s missile tests and international diplomacy, in particular with the US, over the past few years.


July 4: North Korea test-fires the Hwasong-14 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

July 28: North Korea conducts another Hwasong-14 ICBM test.

August 8: US President Donald Trump warns North Korea its threats might lead to “fire and fury like the world has never seen“.

August 29: North Korea fires Hwasong-12 intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM).

September 3: North Korea carries out its sixth nuclear test, setting off a magnitude 6.3 earthquake at a depth of 23 kilometres (14.3 miles) near its Punggye-ri nuclear test site. The North says is has mastered hydrogen bomb technology and state news agency KCNA describes it as a “perfect success”.

September 14: North Korea fires a Hwasong-12 IRBM.

September 17: Trump refers to Kim as “Rocket Man” in a barrage of tweets following a phone conversation with South Korean President Moon Jae-in.

September 19: Trump threatens to “totally destroy” North Korea.

September 21: North Korean leader Kim Jong Un describes Trump as a “mentally deranged US dotard”.

North Korea Kim Jong-un missile
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the long-range strategic ballistic rocket Hwasong-12 (Mars-12) in this undated photo released by North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 15, 2017. [File: KCNA via Reuters]

November 29: North Korea test-fires a Hwasong-15 ICBM, capable of travelling 13,000km (8,078 miles) and reaching most parts of the world and declares it has become a nuclear power.


February 25: North Korean official Kim Yong Chol expresses willingness for US talks while visiting South Korea for the Winter Olympics.

March 8: South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s envoy delivers Kim’s invitation for Trump to visit North Korea; Trump agrees to meet Kim.

April 27: North Korea’s Kim and South Korean President Moon meet for the first inter-Korean summit in more than 10 years, pledging to work for “complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula”. They meet again in May and September.

Korea hug
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un (left) and South Korean President Moon Jae-in embrace after signing a joint statement at the border village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone on April 27, 2018 [File: Korea Summit Press Pool via AP Photo]

May 10: Trump announces he will hold an unprecedented summit with Kim, in Singapore the following month.

June 12: The two men meet in Singapore and pledge to support a peaceful resolution to end 70 years of hostilities between the two countries and a de-escalation of nuclear tensions. Read the full text of their statement here.

June 19: South Korea, US announce the suspension of joint military exercises.

July 27: North Korea returns remains of 55 soldiers killed during the Korean War.

September 9: North Korea displays ICBMs at a military parade.

September 10: White House reveals Kim’s proposal for second summit.

November 16: Kim guides the test of a “cutting-edge tactical weapon”.


January 1: Kim says he is ready to meet Trump again but warns of taking a new path.

February 28: The second Trump-Kim summit – this time in Hanoi – breaks down due to differences over demands by Pyongyang for sanctions relief and by Washington for North Korea to abandon nuclear weapons.

May 4: Kim supervises the tests of rockets and a new short-range ballistic missile (SRBM) in the first such tests in nearly two years.

May 9: North Korea fires two KN-23 SRBMs

May 10: Trump says he does not consider the North’s missile tests a “breach of trust,” calling it “standard stuff”.

June 30: Trump and Kim meet for the third time in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) on the Korean Peninsula.

U.S. President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas, in Panmunjom, South Korea, June 30, 2019. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque -
US President Donald Trump meets North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Demilitarized Zone separating the two Koreas on June 30, 2019 [File: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters]

July 23: Kim inspects a large, new submarine, possibly designed for submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBM).

July 25, 31: North Korea launches KN-23 SRBMs.

August 2: North Korea fires two more KN-23 SRBMs; Trump says the tests do not violate his agreement with Kim.

August 6, 10, 16: North Korea fires more KN-23 and tactical missiles.

August 24: Kim oversees the test of a new “super-large” multiple launch rocket system (MLRS).

September 10: North Korea tests “super-large” MLRS.

October 2: North Korea test-fires new Pukguksong-3 SLBMs.

October 21: Trump says he and Kim get along well and “like” and “respect” each other.

This picture taken on the morning of October 2, 2019 and released by North Korea''s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on October 3, 2019 shows the test-firing of "the new-type SLBM Pukguksong-
This picture taken on the morning of October 2, 2019 and released by KCNA the following day shows the test-firing of “the new-type SLBM Pukguksong-3” in the waters off Wonsan Bay off the country’s east coast [File: KCNA via KNS and AFP]
Kim Jong Un
This picture taken on August 24, 2019 and released the next by KCNA shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un celebrating the test-firing of a ‘newly developed super-large multiple rocket launcher’ at an undisclosed location [File: KCNA via KNS and AFP]

October 31: North Korea tests the “super-large” MLRS.

December 3: North Korea says it is up to the US to decide what “Christmas gift” it wants.


January 1: Kim pledges to further develop nuclear programmes and introduce a “new strategic weapon”.

March 3, 9, 14: North Korea tests MLRS and short-range missiles.

March 21: Kim supervises the test of new tactical guided weapon; Trump sends a letter to Kim offering help on the new coronavirus.

March 29: North Korea tests “super-large” MLRS.

October 3: Kim sends a get-well message to Trump after the then-US president tested positive for COVID-19.

October 10: North Korea unveils a new ICBM and SLBM at a military parade.

This picture shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attending the military parade during a ceremony to mark the 75th anniversary of the Workers’ Party of Korea at Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang [File: KCNA via KNS and AFP]

October 22: Trump says he has a very good relationship with Kim and stopped war; Biden likens Kim to Nazi Germany’s Adolf Hitler and calls him a “thug”.


January 15: North Korea showcases what it calls the “world’s most powerful weapon” at a parade to mark the end of its party congress. Photos released by state media show an SLBM labelled Pukguksong-5, a step up from October’s missile.

March 21: North Korea fires two short-range cruise missiles but the US plays down the first such tests under President Joe Biden and said it is still open to dialogue.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters