People walk in front of a screen showing a news report about North Korea firing a ballistic missile over Japan, in Tokyo October 4, 2022. — Reuters pic
SEOUL, Oct 6 — North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea today in the direction of Japan, as a US aircraft carrier and allied warships held a drill that simulated the shooting down of one of the North’s missiles.
North Korea has launched about 40 missiles this year, including its largest intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs), and appears ready to hold its first nuclear test since 2017, officials in Seoul and Washington have said.
Today’s launches followed the return of the carrier, USS Ronald Reagan, to waters off the Korean peninsula, and a UN Security Council meeting held in response to the North’s recent tests.
The missile launch was the sixth in 12 days and the first since North Korea fired an intermediate-range missile (IRBM) over Japan on Tuesday, which prompted joint South Korean and US missile drills in which one weapon crashed and burned.
The launch was reported by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff and the Japanese government.
“This is the sixth time in the short period, just counting the ones from the end of September,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters. “This absolutely cannot be tolerated.”
The launch came about an hour after North Korea condemned the United States for talking to the United Nations Security Council about Pyongyang’s “just counteraction measures” on joint South Korea-US drills, suggesting its missile tests are a reaction to the allied military moves.
In a statement, the reclusive nation’s foreign ministry also condemned Washington for repositioning the US aircraft carrier off the Korean peninsula, saying it posed a serious threat to the stability of the situation.
The carrier and its strike group of accompanying warships was abruptly redeployed in response to North Korea’s IRBM launch over Japan.
The carrier strike group joined destroyers from South Korea and Japan in maritime missile defence training, the South Korean military said today.
“This training focuses on mastering detection, tracking and interception procedures through shared target information under a scenario of (North Korea) conducting ballistic missile provocations,” it said in a statement.
South Korea said it scrambled jets today after observing at least 12 North Korean warplanes flying in formation on an apparent bombing drill, the Yonhap news agency reported.
A State Department spokesperson said the United States condemned today’s launch as a violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions and a threat to regional neighbours and the international community.
The spokesperson, however, added that Washington was committed to a diplomatic approach and called on the North to engage in dialogue.
Yesterday, the United States accused China and Russia of enabling North Korean leader Kim Jong-un by blocking attempts to strengthen UN Security Council sanctions on Pyongyang for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Kishida agreed during a telephone call today that a clear message should be sent to North Korea that its provocation would bring consequences, Yoon’s office said.
The leaders condemned the North’s recent missile tests as acts of serious provocation and urged a stop to such reckless provocation, it added.
Tokyo lodged a “vehement protest” with North Korea over today’s launches through delegations in Beijing, Japanese Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said.
“North Korea has relentlessly and unilaterally escalated its provocation especially since the beginning of this year,” Hamada told reporters.
Thursday’s first missile probably flew to an altitude of about 100km and a range of 350km, while the second had an estimated altitude of 50km and covered 800km, probably taking an irregular trajectory, he said.
South Korea’s JCS said the missiles were launched from near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang.
The United States and its allies have stepped up displays of military force in the region, but there appears little prospect of further international sanctions by the UN Security Council, which has already passed resolutions banning the North’s missile and nuclear development.
China’s deputy UN ambassador, Geng Shuang, said the Security Council needed to play a constructive role “instead of relying solely on strong rhetoric or pressure.”
In May, China and Russia vetoed a US-led push for more UN sanctions on North Korea over its renewed ballistic missile launches, publicly splitting the Security Council for the first time since it began punishing Pyongyang with sanctions in 2006. — Reuters