Both North Korea and South Korea fired missiles on Wednesday in what looks like an arms race between the two countries still technically at war.
The United States “condemned” the North Korean shooting, carried out “in violation of several UN Security Council resolutions” and which “represents a threat to the neighbors”. But they also reaffirmed their call for “dialogue”, which has so far remained unanswered from Pyongyang since President Joe Biden arrived at the White House in January.
The launch of two North Korean ballistic missiles towards the sea was followed a few hours later by that of a ballistic missile from a submarine by South Korea, supervised by President Moon Jae-in. South Korea has thus become the seventh country in the world to have this cutting-edge technology, an important strategic advance for Seoul which gives it a head start over its neighbor to the north.
The latter is subject to international sanctions for its banned nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
“Having two Koreas carrying out ballistic missile test fires on the same day is a timing extraordinary, ”John Delury, professor at Yonsei University, told AFP. “It just goes to show that there is an arms race in this region that everyone should pay attention to. “
The UN Security Council has thus announced an emergency meeting on these shootings in the Korean peninsula, which will be held behind closed doors and informally.
According to Seoul’s army, the North fired “two short-range ballistic missiles from South Pyongan province, heading east, toward the sea.” They traveled about 800 km at a maximum altitude of about 60 km. Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said they had fallen into the waters of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
South Korea’s sea-to-ground ballistic missile (SLBM) was fired from the submarine Ahn Chang-ho, recently commissioned, and has traveled the expected distance before reaching its target, the South Korean presidency said. All countries with SLBM are equipped with nuclear weapons.
South Korea now has “a sufficient deterrent force to respond to North Korea’s provocations at any time,” President Moon said.
He drew a scathing retaliation from the North Korean leader’s influential sister, Kim Jong-un. Kim Yo-jong condemned Seoul’s “illogical attitude,” which sees its own missile fire as “legitimate actions to support peace, and our actions as a threat to peace,” she said, according to official North Korean media.
“Indirect message” to China
The shooting came as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is in Seoul for talks with his South Korean counterpart. Speaking before the announcement of the shootings, the minister said he hoped that all countries would contribute “to peace and stability on the Korean peninsula”, according to the South Korean news agency Yonhap, inviting them “all to work together to renew the dialogue ”.
For analysts, these shots are a signal intended for China, the North’s main diplomatic ally and trade partner. After coming to power at the end of 2011, Kim Jong-un waited more than six years before traveling to China, but then met several times with Chinese President Xi Jinping. Beijing considers the North to be an integral part of its sphere of influence.
Yang Moo-jin, professor at the University of North Korean Studies, believes that these shots “sound like an indirect message from North Korea, to a request to Beijing for the Korean peninsula to be treated as a priority file” .
About 28,500 US troops are deployed in South Korea, and Washington on Wednesday reaffirmed its “unwavering” commitment to the defense of Seoul and Tokyo.
Pyongyang is now more isolated than ever, since its borders were closed early last year to prevent the spread of coronavirus. His talks with the United States have stalled since the failure of the 2019 Hanoi summit between Kim Jong-un and the then US president, Donald Trump.
Since Kim Jong-un took over as head of the country, weapons programs have progressed, but Pyongyang has not conducted any nuclear tests or intercontinental ballistic missile fire since 2017.