North Korea launches warship-killing cruise missiles after US aircraft carrier drills with Japanese navy
The launches come less than a week after the United Nations expanded sanctions against Kim Jong-un’s regime in response to recent ballistic missile tests
North Korea fired what appeared to be several land-to-ship missiles off its east coast on Thursday, South Korea’s military said, the latest in a fast-paced series of missile tests defying world pressure to rein in its weapons programme.
The launches come less than a week after the United Nations Security Council passed fresh sanctions on the reclusive state, which said it would continued to pursue its nuclear and missile programme without delay.
It also comes a day after South Korea said it will hold off on installing remaining components of a controversial US anti-missile defence system that has angered North Korea’s main ally, China.
The projectiles were fired Thursday from the North Korean eastern coastal town of Wonsan and likely flew about 200 kilometres, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
They landed in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, where US aircraft carriers USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan participated in joint exercises with the South Korean navy that ended earlier this week.
Under third-generation leader Kim Jong-un, North Korea has been conducting missile tests at an unprecedented pace in an effort to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the mainland United States.
Compared to the different types of ballistic missiles Pyongyang has recently tested, the missiles launched on Thursday are considered to be more defensive in nature, designed to defend against threats such as enemy warships.
North Korea unveiled a number of new weapons at a massive military parade on April 15 to mark the birth anniversary of the state’s founding leader and has since tested some of them.
“Looking at North Korea’s pattern of missile launches, it has been revealing what it brought to the recent military parade,” said Kim Dong-yub, a military expert at Kyungnam University’s Far Eastern Studies in Seoul.
“What appeared to be a new type of land-to-ship missile equipped with four launching canisters was unveiled at the parade. I think this might be what was used today.”
South Korean President Moon Jae-in condemned the launch.
“We will not take a single step backwards or compromise on security,” Moon was quoted as saying at a National Security Council meeting, according to his spokesman Park Su-hyun.
“North Korea will only gain international isolation and economic difficulty through its provocations.”
Moon advocated reconciliation with Seoul’s isolated, unpredictable neighbour but has taken a more stern position in the wake of the missile tests, which pose a policy challenge to the left-leaning leader.
Cruise missile tests do not contravene UN regulations, Korea Defence Network analyst Lee Il-woo said, adding they were “much slower than ballistic missiles and can be shot down by anti-aircraft guns”.
Any North Korean tests using ballistic missile technology are banned by UN resolutions.
“North Korea is carrying out carefully calibrated provocations... but restraining from ICBM tests or nuclear explosions which could bring about military retaliations by (US President Donald) Trump,” he added.
Thursday’s launch is also aimed at pressuring Seoul and Washington ahead of a planned summit between Moon and Trump late June, said Hong Hyun-ik, analyst at the Sejong Institute think tank.
“The North is trying to flaunt its presence... and to pressure Moon to offer a big favour in order to ease tension, like the resumption of a joint economic project,” Hong said.
China, the reclusive regime’s sole major ally, has made it clear that a push for talks - and not more sanctions - is its priority.
“Talks deserve another chance and peace is still within our grasp,” Beijing Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Thursday.
The new tests came a day after South Korea suspended deployment of a controversial US missile shield - an apparent concession to China, which is strongly opposed to the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system.
Seoul and Washington were analysing the launches for further information, South Korean officials said.
Japan is on high alert and will analyse information in cooperation with the United States and South Korea, Kyodo news agency quoted Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida as saying.
Japan’s navy and air force conducted military drills with two US aircraft carriers in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) last week, following similar joint US-South Korea exercises.
“North Korea likely wanted to show off its ability to precisely target a large warship, in relation to the joint military drills involving US aircraft carriers,” Roh Jae-cheon, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman told a media briefing.
“By testing different types of missiles, North Korea also appears to be aiming to secure the upper hand in relations with South Korea and the United States.”
Reuters, Bloomberg, Agence France-Presse