The South Korean military said that North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast on Tuesday. This latest aggression from Pyongyang comes after Seoul and Washington conducted their largest joint military drills in years.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement that missiles were fired about 7:40 a.m. (2240 GMT on Monday) from South Hwanghae Province, near the country’s west coast, and flew about 620 kilometers.
It added that the South Korean military was on high alert and ready as it prepared a coordinated response with the United States.
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Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida also responded to this early morning attack from North Korea. Prime Minister Kishida said Japan was collecting information on the missile and that they had not confirmed any damage within the country related to the launch.
However, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said that he was yet to get more information about this attack to determine if it flew into Japan’s territory or exclusive economic zones.
“We see there is a possibility that North Korea will step up further provocative actions, including missile launches and nuclear tests,” Matsuno said. “We will continue our close cooperation with the U.S. and South Korea over North Korea’s military moves and gather and analyze information through surveillance.”
Reuters reported that the U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the latest launches did not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to its allies, but said the North’s unlawful weapons programmes had a destabilising effect.
In a related development, the spokesperson for South Korea’s defense ministry, in a press briefing, condemned the latest attack, calling it an attempt to hamper our “Freedom Shield 23” drills with the U.S.
The spokesperson said that this attack threatened not only the region’s peace and security but was a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions.
“The South Korea-U.S. alliance will carry out our exercises and training as planned even if North Korea tries to hamper our Freedom Shield drills with provocations,” the spokesperson said.
On Monday, South Korean and American forces began 11 days of joint drills, dubbed “Freedom Shield 23,” which will be held on a scale not seen since 2017 to counter the North’s growing threats. North Korea has long bristled at the allies’ drills as a rehearsal for invasion, Reuters reported.
Prior to this ballistic missile launch, the North Korean state media KCNA reported on Sunday that the country had decided to take what it terms “important practical” steps to protect its territory in case the U.S. and South Korea decide to attack the country. “War provocations of the U.S. and South Korea are reaching the red-line,” it said.
U.S. National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan said on Monday that the U.S. would not let “any steps North Korea takes deter us or constrain us from the actions that we feel are necessary to safeguard stability on the Korean Peninsula.”
The U.S. plans to hold a joint meeting with the United Nations Security Council members on Friday to discuss human rights abuses in North Korea and perhaps a coordinated response to this latest round of attacks from Pyongyang.