(Clockwise) A man in Seoul watches a television news broadcast showing file footage of the North Korean missile test. A handout footage shows the test-firing of South Korea’s submarine-launched ballistic missile.—AFP
(Clockwise) A man in Seoul watches a television news broadcast showing file footage of the North Korean missile test. A handout footage shows the test-firing of South Korea’s submarine-launched ballistic missile.—AFP

SEOUL: South Korea successfully test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile on Wednesday, becoming only the seventh country in the world with the advanced technology and raising the prospect of a regional arms race.

The test, supervised by President Moon Jae-in, came hours after nuclear-armed North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the sea, according to the South’s military — prompting Washington to brand Pyongyang’s action a provocative “threat” to Asian neighbours.

South Korea’s test is a strategic advance for Seoul. It has been strengthening its military capabilities to counter the threat posed by the North, which is under international sanctions for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.

“It’s extraordinary timing that you have not one but two Koreas testing ballistic missiles on the same day,” Yonsei University professor John Delury said.

“It does speak to the fact that there’s an arms race in this region that everyone needs to pay attention to.” The South’s missile was fired underwater from its newly commissioned submarine Ahn Chang-ho, and flew the planned distance before hitting its target, the presidential Blue House said.

With the successful tests, South Korea now has “sufficient deterrence to respond to North Korea’s provocations at any time”, Moon said, urging his country to continue increasing its weapons programmes to “overwhelm North Korea’s asymmetric power”.

Within hours he was rebuked by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s influential sister Kim Yo Jong, who lambasted him for making a “thoughtless utterance” and incorrectly accusing the North of “provocation”.

Seoul has an “illogical and stupid habit of describing its act as a just one supporting peace and describing our act of similar nature as the one threatening peace,” she said in a statement carried by Pyongyang’s official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).

Earlier in the day the North fired “two short-range ballistic missiles” from South Pyongan province into the sea off its east coast, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

Tokyo’s defence minister Nobuo Kishi estimated they came down in the waters of Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone.

It was Pyongyang’s second firing in less than a week, after KCNA reported it had test-fired a new “long-range cruise missile” over the weekend.

The US State Department condemned North Korea’s Wednesday launch, saying it was “in violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and poses a threat to the DPRK’s neighbors” and others.

But it reiterated its willingness to use diplomacy with the nuclear-armed North, known officially as the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, and urged them to “engage in dialogue.”

The launches came shortly after Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held talks Wednesday in Seoul with his South Korean counterpart and Moon.

Wang had earlier said he hoped all countries would help “peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula”, Yonhap news agency reported.

Analysts said the timing of Pyongyang’s launch was an unmistakable signal to Beijing, the North’s key diplomatic ally and main partner for trade and aid — although at times their relationship has been deeply strained.

Kim Jong Un did not visit China for more than six years after inheriting power from his father Kim Jong Il, and tensions mounted in the allies’ relationship.

But he and Chinese President Xi Jinping have since met several times, and Beijing sees the North very much in its sphere of influence.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2021

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