Update: Rival Koreas test missiles hours apart, raising tensions

North Korea, which celebrated its founding earlier this week, is thought to have tested a pair of ballistic missiles in contravention of sanctions [File: Jeon Heon-Kyun/EPA]
North Korea, which celebrated its founding earlier this week, is thought to have tested a pair of ballistic missiles in contravention of sanctions

The rival Koreas test-launched ballistic missiles hours apart from each other on Wednesday in a display of military assets that came amid a faltering diplomatic push to strip North Korea of its nuclear program.

South Korea’s presidential office said it conducted its first underwater-launched ballistic missile test on Wednesday afternoon. It said a domestically built missile fired from a 3,000-ton-class submarine flew a previously set distance before hitting a designated target.

The statement said the weapon is expected to help South Korea deter potential external threats, boost its self-defense posture and promote peace on the Korean Peninsula.

The test followed two short-range North Korean ballistic missile launches detected by South Korea’s military earlier Wednesday. On Monday, North Korea said it fired a newly developed cruise missile in its first weapons test in six months.

Experts say the North Korean launches showed it’s pressing ahead with its arms build-up plans while trying to apply pressure on the United States to resume stalled nuclear talks.

It’s not usual for South Korea to publicly disclose high-profile weapons tests that some experts say could provoke North Korea unnecessarily.

Observers say Moon’s government, which has been actively pursuing reconciliation with North Korea, may be responding to criticism that it’s too soft on the North.

South Korea’s military said the North Korean missiles, launched from central North Korea on Wednesday, flew about 800 kilometers (497 miles) on an apogee of 60 kilometers (37 miles) before landing in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

The US Indo-Pacific Command said the launches, while highlighting the destabilising impact of North Korea’s illicit weapons program, didn’t pose an immediate threat to “US personal or territory, or to our allies.”

“The firings threaten the peace and safety of Japan and the region and are absolutely outrageous,” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said. “The government of Japan is determined to further step up our vigilance and surveillance to be prepared for any contingencies.”

Japan’s coast guard said no ships or aircraft reported damage from the missiles.

Wednesday’s launches were a violation of UN Security Council resolutions that bar North Korea from engaging in any ballistic missile activities. But the UN council typically doesn’t slap fresh sanctions on North Korea when it launches short-range missiles, like the ones fired Wednesday.

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