Show of force: North Korea fires three ballistic missiles into sea as G20 leaders meet in China

PUBLISHED : Monday, 05 September, 2016, 12:13pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 06 July, 2017, 11:22am

North Korea fired three ballistic missiles off its east coast Monday, South Korea’s military said, in a show of force timed to the G20 economic summit in China.

North Korea regularly engages in missile and rocket tests, especially when international attention is turned to Northeast Asia. World leaders are gathering for the G20 summit of advanced and emerging economies in the city of Hangzhou in eastern China. Beijing is the North’s only major ally, but ties between the neighbours have frayed amid a string of nuclear and missile tests and what many outsiders see as other provocations in recent years.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the three missiles, launched from the western North Korean town of Hwangju, flew across the country before splashing in the waters off its east coast. The sabre-rattling follows a submarine-launched ballistic missile test some two weeks ago.

The three missiles likely landed in the sea 200 to 250 km west of Hokkaido, Japan’s northern-most main island, sources at Japan’s defence ministry said.

“The ministry expresses serious concern over the missile launches as they pose a grave threat to Japan’s national security,” a ministry statement said.

China’s Foreign Ministry said it hoped relevant parties avoid taking any actions that may escalate tensions.

Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying made the comments at a daily news briefing in Beijing.

Before the firing, China’s President Xi Jinping and South Korean President Park Geun-hye met on the sidelines of the summit amid tensions between the two nations over the planned deployment of a missile defence system by the United States in South Korea.

While most North Korean missiles are fired from its east coast, Hwangju has been site of previous launches. On July 19, three missiles were launched from Hwangju into the Sea of Japan (East Sea).

Officials said at the time they were believed to be short-range Scud or medium-range Rodong types.

The launch comes four days before the 68th anniversary of the founding of North Korea’s government, and days after South Korean and U.S. troops ended annual joint summertime military drills, which North Korea regularly describes as a dress rehearsal for invasion.

The UN Security Council in late August strongly condemned four North Korean ballistic missile launches in July and August. It called them “grave violations” of a ban on all ballistic missile activity.

In 2014, the North fired two Rodong medium-range missiles just as Park and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe were sitting down with US President Barack Obama at the Hague to discuss responding to the North’s arms programme.

Kyodo, Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and Reuters