Seoul, South Korea
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into waters off the east coast of the Korean peninsula on Thursday morning local time, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff – a move that could aggravate tensions in the region after a series of shows of military power this week.
Hailing from the Samsok area in North Korea’s capital Pyongyang, the South Korean statement said it was North Korea’s sixth ballistic missile launch event in the past two weeks.
It also closely follows a very provocative launch by the isolated country on Tuesday, as North Korea fired ballistic missile over Japan without warning – the first in five years – prompting Tokyo to urge residents to take shelter.
The United States and South Korea responded Tuesday and Wednesday with missile launches and drills around the Korean peninsula.
Last month, the U.S., Japanese, and South Korean navies conducted joint anti-submarine exercises in international waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula to improve their ability to respond to North American submarine threats. Korean.
The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and its carrier battle group as well as South Korean and Japanese destroyers took part in the joint exercise, according to the South Korean navy.
Pyongyang on Thursday accused the United States of contributing to tensions around the Korean peninsula and called its own launches reactive.
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North Korea’s latest launch came hours after a Security Council briefing at United Nations headquarters in New York on its weapons program.
Speaking at the council, US Ambassador to the United Nations Linda Thomas-Greenfield accused Russia and China, without naming them, of enabling North Korea.
North Korea has “enjoyed general protection from two members of this council. These two members have done everything possible to justify the DPRK’s repeated provocations and block any attempt to update the sanctions regime,” she said.
Referring to Russia and China, Thomas-Greenfield said: “Two permanent members of the Security Council have allowed [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un” to continue these “provocations”.
But China countered that it was Washington that was raising tensions.
“The United States has recently strengthened its military alliances in the Asia-Pacific region and heightened the risk of military confrontation on the nuclear issue,” China’s Deputy Ambassador to the UN Geng Shuang told a meeting of the Security Council.
The United States is “poisoning the regional security environment”, he added.
Russia also blamed the United States.
“It is obvious that the missile launches by Pyongyang were a response to the short-sighted confrontational military activities of the United States,” said Anna Evstigneeva, Russia’s deputy permanent representative to the UN.
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Experts have warned that recent tests by North Korea suggest an even bigger escalation in weapons testing could be on the horizon.
“North Korea will continue to test missiles until the current round of modernization is complete,” said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Center for Studies. on nonproliferation, to CNN earlier this week.
A nuclear test could take place “any time”, he added.
South Korean and US officials have been warning since May that North Korea may be preparing for a nuclear test, with satellite images showing activity at its underground nuclear test site.
If North Korea conducts a test, it would be the country’s seventh underground nuclear test and the first in nearly five years.