North Korea fires two missiles after South Korea-US drills

Launches carried out after Pyongyang warns of ‘inevitable’ response to rivals’ military exercises.

North Korea
North Korea test launches a Hwasong-18 intercontinental ballistic missile from an undisclosed location in North Korea, May 16, 2023 [File: KCNA via Reuters]

North Korea has fired two short-range missiles off its east coast, the South Korean military says. The launches were carried out less than an hour after Pyongyang had warned of an “inevitable” response to military drills staged by South Korean and United States troops.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it detected the launches from North Korea’s capital region on Thursday.

Japan’s Ministry of Defence said the two ballistic missiles landed within the country’s exclusive economic zone, possibly having flown in an irregular trajectory. One landed in the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, about 110km (70 miles) northwest of Hegura island, part of Ishikawa prefecture, and the other about 250km (155 miles) away, Japanese authorities said.

The US, Japan and South Korea condemned the actions of North Korea, officially called the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK).

“These launches are clear violations of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions, and demonstrate the threat the DPRK’s unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs pose to the region, international peace and security, and the global non-proliferation regime,” the countries said in a joint statement.

US President Joe Biden’s national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, was in Tokyo for meetings with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts, Cho Tae-yong and Takeo Akiba, when the launch took place.

The three discussed North Korea’s missile programme and confirmed they would work closely together to get Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear weapons, according to a readout of the meeting released by Japan.

US-South Korean joint military drills

Earlier on Thursday, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol watched as several thousand South Korean and US troops took part in live-fire exercises in the latest show of force that the allies say is necessary to deter North Korea.

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South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, centre, visits the Seungjin Fire Training Field in Pocheon, South Korea, during South Korean-US joint military drills on June 15, 2023 [Jung Yeon-je/Reuters]

A spokesperson for North Korea’s Ministry of National Defence said the drills were escalating military tensions in the region and its forces would sternly respond to “any kind of protests or provocations by enemies”.

Pyongyang unsuccessfully tried to launch a spy satellite late last month in its first satellite launch attempt since 2016. The rocket booster and payload plunged into the sea.

North Korea’s ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes are banned by UN Security Council resolutions that have sanctioned the country.

Diplomatic efforts to reduce tensions or persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear arsenal have stalled.

North Korea
An explosion destroys a liaison office built by South Korea in the border town of Kaesong, North Korea, on June 16, 2020 [North Korea’s Korean Central News Agency via Reuters]

South Korea sued North Korea on Wednesday for $35m in compensation for a liaison office that North Korea blew up in 2020 in a case highlighting the breakdown of ties between the neighbours.

US sanctions North Korean duo over missiles

The US on Thursday also imposed sanctions on a North Korean husband and wife living in Beijing who are accused of helping to procure equipment for ballistic missiles that ended up in the hands of North Korean and Iranian customers.

The US Treasury Departments’s Office of Foreign Assets Control said Choe Chol Min and his wife Choe Un Jong work through North Korea’s Second Academy of Natural Sciences, a state organisation that conducts research for the nation’s ballistics missiles programme, to help procure equipment for buyers.

The Treasury said Choe Chol Min worked with North Korean weapons trading officials to buy equipment for Iranian customers. His wife is accused of coordinating at least one order for dual-use bearings that are used in North Korean ballistic missile production.

Treasury official Brian E Nelson said North Korea’s development of its missile programme — “even Pyongyang’s recent failed military satellite launch – continues to threaten regional and international security”.

“The United States is committed to targeting the regime’s illicit procurement networks that feed its weapons programmes,” Nelson said.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies