North Korea fires more missiles as tensions rise around Korean Peninsula
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the 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 likely to escalate tensions in the area after a series of shows of military might this week.
Originating from the Samsok area of North Korea’s capital Pyongyang, according to the South Korean statement, it was North Korea’s sixth ballistic missile launch event in the past two weeks.
It also closely follows a highly provocative launch by the isolated country on Tuesday, when North Korea fired a ballistic missile without warning over Japan — the first in five years — prompting Tokyo to urge residents to take shelter.
The United States and South Korea responded with missile launches and exercises around the Korean Peninsula on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Last month, the US, Japanese and South Korean navies conducted joint anti-submarine exercises in international waters off the east coast of the Korean Peninsula to improve response capability against North Korean submarine threats.
The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its carrier strike group as well as destroyers of South Korea and Japan were involved in the joint exercise, according to the South Korean Navy.
Pyongyang on Thursday accused the US of contributing to tensions around the Korean Peninsula and framed its own launches as reactive.
US blames Russia, China for emboldening Pyongyang
The latest North Korean launch came hours after a Security Council briefing at the United Nations headquarters in New York about 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 blanket protection from two members of this council. These two members have gone out of their way to justify the DPRK’s repeated provocations and block every attempt to update the sanctions regime,” she said.
Referring to Russia and China, Thomas-Greenfield said, “Two permanent members of the Security Council have enabled [North Korean leader] Kim Jong Un” to continue these “provocations.”
But China countered that it was Washington ratcheting up tensions.
“The US has recently been bolstering its military alliances in the Asia Pacific region and intensifying the risk of military confrontation on the nuclear issue,” the Chinese Deputy Ambassador to the UN Geng Shuang said during a Security Council meeting.
The US is “poisoning the regional security environment,” he added.
Experts have warned that North Korea’s recent tests suggest an even greater escalation in weapons testing could be on the horizon.
“North Korea is going to keep conducting missile tests until the current round of modernization is done,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told CNN earlier this week.
A nuclear test could come “anytime,” he added.
South Korean and US officials have been warning since May that North Korea may be preparing for a nuclear test, with satellite imagery 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.
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