Asia

North Korea’s ‘outrageous’ new move


North Korea has fired two ballistic missiles into the East Sea, South Korea’s military has confirmed, threatening peace and security in the region.

In its second weapons test this week, North Korea has fired two ballistic missiles off its east coast, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) has confirmed.

Days after Pyongyang said it had successfully tested new long-range cruise missiles – described by North Korea’s state media as a “strategic weapon of great significance” – the nuclear-armed nation fired “two unidentified ballistic missiles” from its central inland area.

“South Korean and US intelligence agencies are conducting detailed analysis,” Seoul’s JCS said in a statement, without immediately giving details of the missiles’ range.

They added that their military was maintaining “a full readiness posture in close co-operation with the US”.

In Japan – where it was also reported that an object was fired, and that it may have been a ballistic missile – Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called the North’s launch “outrageous” and said it threatened peace and security in the region.

Analysts said the timing was an unmistakeable 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.

The launch came as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is in Seoul for talks with his South Korean counterpart.

Speaking before the news emerged, Mr Wang said he hoped that all countries would help “peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula”.

“For example, not only the North, but also other countries are engaging in military activities,” he added.

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“Having said this, we all have to work together toward the resumption of dialogue.”

North Korea is under international sanctions for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs, which it says it needs to defend itself against a US invasion.

Talks with America have been stalled since the collapse of a 2019 summit in Hanoi between North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and then-US president Donald Trump over sanctions relief – and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.

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

But subsequently, he and Chinese President Xi Jinping met several times, and Beijing sees the North as very much part of its sphere of influence.

Professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, Yang-Moo-jin, said that today’s launch “looks like North Korea’s indirect message and even request to Beijing for the Korean peninsula to be addressed as a central agenda issue for China”.

“At the same time, Pyongyang seems to be claiming and stressing that North Korea is taking the lead in the Korean peninsula issue,” he added.

Pyongyang is currently under a self-imposed blockade after closing its borders early last year to protect itself against the coronavirus pandemic.

– with AFP



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