North and South Korea have tested ballistic missiles hours apart in a show of military might that is sure to exacerbate tensions between rivals at a time when talks aimed at stripping the North of its nuclear program are stalled.
South Korea’s presidential office said the country conducted its first test of water-launched ballistic missiles. He said the domestically-made missile flew from a submarine and hit its designated target.
Those launches came two days after North Korea said it fired a newly developed cruise missile, its first weapons test in six months.
Experts say the North Korean launches are an effort to pressure the United States in hopes of obtaining sanctions relief aimed at persuading North Korea to abandon its nuclear arsenal.
US-led talks on the issue have stalled for more than two years, and in the meantime, tensions have risen on the Korean peninsula.
Meanwhile, observers say the government of South Korean President Moon Jae-in, which has been actively seeking reconciliation with North Korea, may have taken steps to appear tougher in response to criticism that it is too soft on Korea. North.
Rival nations are still technically in a state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War, which pitted the North and its ally China against the South and US-led UN forces, ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the launches “threaten the peace and security of Japan and the region and are absolutely outrageous.”
The US Indo-Pacific Command said the move “highlights the destabilizing impact of (North Korea’s) illicit weapons program,” although it said it does not pose an immediate threat to the United States.
South Korea’s test is likely to enrage North Korea, which has often accused its rival of hypocrisy for introducing modern weapons while calling for talks between the divided countries.
The South Korean military said North Korean ballistic missiles flew about 800 kilometers before landing in the waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan.
The launches represent a violation of UN Security Council resolutions that prohibit North Korea from participating in any ballistic missile activity.
But the council does not usually impose new sanctions when North Korea launches short-range missiles, like the one on Wednesday.
Wednesday’s tests came as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Seoul to meet with Moon and other senior officials to discuss North Korea and other issues.
It is unusual for North Korea to make provocative launches when China, its last great ally and biggest aid provider, participates in a major diplomatic event. But some experts say North Korea may have used the moment to get attention.
Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Wednesday’s tests appeared to be an improved version of a short-range missile that he tested in March. He said the weapon is likely inspired by Russia’s Iskander missile, whose flattened low-altitude flight makes it difficult to intercept.
The international community is hell-bent on getting North Korea to abandon its nuclear program and has long used a combination of the threat of sanctions and the promise of financial aid to try to influence it.
But nuclear talks between the US and North Korea have stalled since 2019, when the administration of then US President Donald Trump rejected the North’s demand for major sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling the an aging nuclear facility.
The government of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has so far rejected US President Joe Biden’s government dialogue proposals, demanding that Washington first abandon what it calls “hostile” policies.
But North Korea has maintained its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests, a sign that it may not want to completely spoil the possibility of reopening the talks.
In 2017, North Korea claimed to have acquired the ability to strike the American continent with nuclear weapons after conducting three ICBM tests and its most powerful nuclear test.
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In recent years, it has also conducted a series of underwater-launched missile tests in what experts say is a concerning development because such weapons are difficult to detect in advance and would provide the North with a second retaliatory strike capability.
South Korea, which does not have nuclear weapons, is under the protection of the US “nuclear umbrella”, which guarantees a devastating US response in the event of an attack on its ally.
But South Korea has been accelerating efforts to develop its conventional weapons, including the development of more powerful missiles.
Experts say the South’s military advances are aimed at enhancing its capacity for pre-emptive strikes and destroying key North Korean facilities and bunkers.
Aside from the missile launched from a submarine, South Korea also tested a missile from an aircraft that is in development.