Wednesday 26 July 2017

North Korea launches a fresh volley of missiles

South Korea’s Moon Jae-in. Photo: Reuters
South Korea’s Moon Jae-in. Photo: Reuters

Hyung-Jin Kim in Seoul

North Korea has launched several suspected anti-ship missiles in a defiant message that Pyongyang will continue to pursue a weapons programme, a move that has rattled its neighbours and Washington.

The projectiles were short-range and landed well short of past efforts. They were fired yesterday from the North Korean eastern coastal town of Wonsan and likely flew about 200km, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said. They landed in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, where US aircraft carriers USS Carl Vinson and USS Ronald Reagan participated in joint exercises with the South Korean navy that ended earlier this week.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in said during a National Security Council meeting he "won't back off even a single step and make any compromise" on the issue of national security. He warned that North Korea could only face further international isolation and more economic difficulties.

The North's missile tests present a difficult challenge to Mr Moon. North Korea, which could have a working nuclear-tipped intercontinental ballistic missile in the next several years, may also be the most urgent foreign policy concern for the US, which has been distracted by domestic political turmoil and has insisted China do more to rein in the North's weapons activities.

South Korean military spokesman Roh Jae-cheon said the launch was intended to show off Pyongyang's widening range of missiles and also its "precision strike capabilities" on ships in response to the joint drills.

North Korea's weapons tests are meant to build a nuclear and missile programme that can stand up to what it sees as US and South Korean hostility, but they are also considered by outside analysts as ways to make its political demands clear to leaders in Washington and Seoul. Analysts say the latest test appeared to be aimed at keeping up pressures on Mr Moon to wrest concessions.

Mr Moon has sought to expand cross-border civilian exchanges as a way to improve ties, but North Korea on Monday rejected a Seoul civic group's offer to provide anti-malaria supplies to protest South Korea's support of fresh UN sanctions adopted last week.

In what will likely become another source of animosities, Mr Moon's government said yesterday that it will let two of the four North Korean fishermen recently rescued at sea resettle in the South in accordance with their wishes. The two other fishermen who want to return home will be repatriated.

Pyongyang is expected to demand the return of all four fishermen by accusing Seoul of enticing them to defect to the South.

Irish Independent

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