North Korea launched two new ballistic missiles on Thursday in what it said was “mere retaliation” for weapons tests against Washington and Seoul and their military exercises in the region.
The fresh firing comes as the UN Security Council meets in New York to discuss the launch of another North Korean missile that hit Japan two days earlier.
According to the South Korean military, two short-range missiles were fired from around Pyongyang towards the Sea of Japan on Thursday morning. The Japanese Coast Guard confirmed the discovery of the projectiles.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida immediately responded that this sixth launch in less than two weeks was “absolutely unacceptable”.
On Tuesday, a Hwasong-12 missile flew over Japan and traveled about 4,600 km, according to Seoul and Washington, the longest range Pyongyang has ever achieved in its tests.
It was the first time in five years that a North Korean missile had landed within Japan’s territory.
North Korea, which adopted a new doctrine in September that changed its status as a nuclear power to “irreversible,” has ramped up its missile launches this year and launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time since 2017.
North Korea’s Ministry of Defense said on Thursday that the firing was an appropriate response by the Korean People’s Army against joint military maneuvers between South Korea and the United States that are raising military tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Following Tuesday’s launch, Washington called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. But North Korea’s ally China also blamed the US.
– China blames Washington –
Pyongyang’s missile tests are “closely linked” to US-South Korean military exercises, Geng Shuang, China’s deputy ambassador to the United Nations, told the council.
He accused Washington of “poisoning the regional security environment”.
Seoul, Tokyo and Washington have stepped up joint military maneuvers in recent weeks, including anti-submarine drills and large-scale naval maneuvers.
On Wednesday, South Korea and the United States fired five ballistic missiles — one of which crashed after launch — at fictitious targets in the Sea of Japan. And the day before yesterday, the air forces of both countries engaged in firing training in the Yellow Sea.
Seoul also announced the return to the region of the USS Ronald Reagan, a US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier that conducted exercises with the South Korean navy in September.
France, England, Albania, Norway and Ireland supported the Security Council meeting.
US Ambassador to the UN Linda Thomas-Greenfield condemned the “clear attempt by (North Korea) to reward bad actions by China and Russia” and called for tougher sanctions against Pyongyang.
In May, Beijing and Moscow vetoed a Security Council resolution imposing new sanctions on North Korea, after the body unanimously adopted tougher sanctions in 2017.
According to analysts, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s regime is taking advantage of the deadlock at the UN to further advance its weapons tests.
Seoul and Washington expect North Korea to resume its nuclear tests, which have been halted since 2017, probably after the Chinese Communist Party congress that begins on October 16.
“At this point, it would seem counterproductive for Kim to back down and stop provocations. Not to mention the amount of resources wasted by conducting these weapons tests,” Soo Kim, an analyst at the RAND Corporation, told AFP.
“We are definitely in a cycle of armed provocation,” he said.