North Korea fires missiles ‘which is clear provocation seriously threatening peace and stability’

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspecting a training exercise of the Korean People's Army
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspected an army training exercise on the weekend - KCNA
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North Korea fired at least three short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast on Monday morning. The launches coincided with the arrival of Antony Blinken, the US Secretary of State, in Seoul for a meeting of senior government officials from 30 nations.

The first launch was detected at 7:44 am local time and the missiles were tracked for a distance of around 185 miles before coming down in the Sea of Japan.

Military officials in South Korea said the weapons appeared to have trajectories consistent with KN-24 ballistic missiles, which have a range of up to 250 miles and can carry a warhead of 1,100lbs.

In a statement, the South Korean joint chiefs of staff said: “We strongly condemn North Korea’s latest missile launch, which is a clear provocation that seriously threatens peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula.”

A woman walks past a television showing a news broadcast with file footage of a North Korean missile test, at a railway station in Seoul
A woman walks past a television showing a broadcast with file footage of a missile test, at a railway station in Seoul on Monday - Anthony Wallace/AFP

Japan was also quick to criticise the launches, with Fumio Kishida, the prime minister, telling the National Diet that the tests were acts “that threaten the peace and safety of Japan, the region and international society”. He added that the launches contravened UN Security Council resolutions that ban Pyongyang from conducting any ballistic missile tests.

The launches were the first since a similar series of tests in mid-February and came shortly after Mr Blinken arrived in the South Korean capital to attend the Summit for Democracy.

A US State Department official told reporters in Washington the launches were ‘‘in violation of multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions”.

The official called on Pyongyang to engage in dialogue, adding, “Our commitments to the defence of the Republic of Korea and Japan remain ironclad”.

South Korea and the US completed the 11-day Freedom Shield military exercises on Thursday, with the manoeuvres including live-fire drills against mobile missile launchers and artillery emplacements. Independently, South Korean maritime and air units have been conducting exercises to counter North Korean aggression close to islands off the west coast of the peninsula.

Unverified photographs from North Korean media showed military practising scaling walls, parachuting and firing weapons
Unverified photographs from North Korean media showed military practising scaling walls, parachuting and firing weapons - KCNA

Pyongyang has again described the joint US-South Korea exercises as rehearsals for an invasion of the North and has been ramping up its military preparedness. Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, oversaw exercises involving paratroopers on Friday, state-run media reported, after attending live-fire artillery drills and test-driving a new tank earlier in the week.

The Korea Central News Agency added that Mr Kim instructed the units to be ready for “surprise wartime circumstances”, repeating recent calls for the nation to be “fully prepared” for a war with its southern neighbour.

Yoon Suk Yeol, the South Korean president, has expanded security cooperation with the US and Japan and taken a far more resolute line toward Pyongyang than his predecessor, said Leif-Eric Easley, Professor of International Studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. Mr Kim, however, has not been cowed and has arguably been emboldened by a burgeoning alliance with Russia.

“The Kim regime has taken more aggressive steps, such as missile launches it says are no longer just tests but also combat readiness drills, including for nuclear war,” he said.

“Strikingly, while South Korea conducted defence training last week alongside international partners, Kim Jong-un personally supervised several military exercises,” Mr Easley said. “And now, while Seoul hosts a summit of democracies, North Korea fires more missiles.

“The Kim regime’s one-upmanship aims to show strength to its domestic audience, suggest costs on the Korean Peninsula for Seoul’s international security cooperation, and warns Washington against increasing pressure on Pyongyang”.

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