South Korea and the United States have condemned North Korea’s latest missile launches, firing eight ballistic missiles of their own in a show of force aimed at demonstrating the two allies’ readiness to respond to Pyongyang’s “provocations”.
The launches early on Monday came a day after North Korea fired eight short-range ballistic missiles towards the sea off its east coast, in what analysts said was the largest single test ever by the nuclear-armed country.
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In a statement, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the allies launched eight ballistic missiles into the East Sea starting at 4:45am local time (19:45 GMT on Sunday) for about 10 minutes.
The action was a demonstration of “the capability and readiness to launch immediate precision strikes on the origins of provocations and their command and support forces”, the JCS said.
“Our military strongly condemns the North’s series of ballistic missile provocations and seriously urges it to immediately stop acts that raise military tensions on the peninsula and add to security concerns,” it added.
An official from South Korea’s Defence Ministry confirmed eight Army Tactical Missile Systems (ATACMS) had been fired.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office last month, has promised to take a tougher line against North Korea, which has stepped up the development of its missile and nuclear programme, and agreed with US President Joe Biden at a May summit in Seoul to upgrade joint military drills and their combined deterrence posture.
The two allies on Saturday wrapped up three days of naval drills in international waters off the Japanese island of Okinawa. The exercises involved a US aircraft carrier for the first time since November 2017.
North Korea has criticised previous joint drills as an example of Washington’s continued “hostile policies” towards Pyongyang, despite its talk of diplomacy.
It has conducted a flurry of missile launches this year, from hypersonic weapons to test-firing its largest intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) for the first time in nearly five years.
It also tested another suspected ICBM on May 25, hours after Biden had left Asia following a six-day tour to the region. South Korea and the US fired two missiles in response to demonstrate their “overwhelming power” to respond to any attacks from North Korea.
Officials in Washington and Seoul have meanwhile warned that North Korea also appeared ready to resume nuclear weapons tests for the first time since 2017.
Last week, the US called for more United Nations sanctions on North Korea over its record ballistic missile launches, but China and Russia vetoed the suggestion, publicly splitting the UN Security Council on North Korea for the first time since it started punishing it in 2006, when North Korea conducted its first nuclear test.