North Korea fires ballistic missiles, prompting joint military drill by Japan, US

Published June 6, 2022
A North Korean flag flutters on top of a 160-metre tower in North Korea's propaganda village of Gijungdong, in this picture taken from the Tae Sung freedom village near the Military Demarcation Line. — Reuters
A North Korean flag flutters on top of a 160-metre tower in North Korea's propaganda village of Gijungdong, in this picture taken from the Tae Sung freedom village near the Military Demarcation Line. — Reuters

SEOUL: North Korea fired eight short-range ballistic missiles towards the sea off its east coast on Sunday, likely its largest single test, a day after South Korea and the United States ended joint military drills.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that at least eight missiles were fired from the Sunan area of the North Korean capital Pyongyang and they flew between 110 km-600 km at altitudes between 25 km to 90 km.

In response to North Korea’s missiles launch, Japan’s Self Defence Force issued a statement that Japan and the United States had conducted a joint military exercise.

And South Korea convened a National Security Council (NSC) meeting where President Yoon Suk-yeol ordered “expanded deterrence of South Korea and the United States and continued reinforcement of united defence posture”.

The NSC meeting concluded that the missile launch was North Korea’s “test and challenge” of the security readiness of South Korea’s new administration, which took office last month, the president’s office said in a news release.

South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Kim Gunn, its Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs, discussed the provocation with US Special Representative Sung Kim, the US point man on North Korean affairs. Kim Gunn also held a telephone conference with his Japanese counterpart Funakoshi Takehiro.

Earlier on Sunday, Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said the North had launched multiple missiles, and that the act “cannot be tolerated.” He said at a briefing that at least one missile had a variable trajectory, which indicates it could manoeuvre to evade missile defences.

The US Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that North Korea’s multiple ballistic missile launches highlighted the destabilising impact of its illicit weapons program but that the event didn’t pose an immediate threat.

Michael Duitsman, with the US-based James Martin Centre for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), said it appeared to be the largest single test ever by North Korea. A large number of missiles also suggests a military drill or show of force, rather than a test of new technology.

The launch was also during a visit to Seoul by Sung Kim. The US official was originally scheduled to depart Seoul on Saturday, according to the US State Department.

He met his South Korean and Japanese counterparts on Friday to prepare for “all contingencies” amid signs North Korea was preparing to conduct a nuclear test for the first time since 2017.

Washington has made very clear directly to Pyongyang that it is open to diplomacy, Kim said during the visit, noting that he was willing to discuss items of interest to Pyongyang, such as sanctions relief.

Published in Dawn, June 6th, 2022

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