© Reuters. A North Korean flag is flown at the Gijungdong propaganda village in North Korea in this photo taken near the armistice village of Panmunjom in the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas on July 19, 2022. Reuters/Kim Hong-J
by Cynthia Kim
SEOUL (Reuters) – North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast on Saturday, hours after South Korea staged a major military display featuring stealth fighter jets and its own missiles.
Pyongyang’s fourth launch in a week comes amid a string of displays of military power by countries in the region, including a joint anti-submarine exercise by the navies of South Korea, the United States and Japan on Friday.
U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, who visited the region this week, met South Korean President Yoon Se-yeol in Seoul on Thursday.
Rival North Korea is engaged in a regional arms race, with significant increases in weapons and military spending.
Yoon denounced what he called North Korea’s latest military provocation and vowed to step up joint military exercises with the United States as he commemorated South Korea’s 74th Army Day.
“The government will further strengthen the South Korea-U.S. joint exercise and will respond strongly to North Korea’s provocations and threats by showing North Korea an ‘alliance for action,'” Yoon said in a televised speech.
He and military officials watched a large demonstration of advanced weapons, including systems such as multiple rocket launchers, ballistic missiles, main battle tanks, drones and F-35 fighter jets.
The U.S. military displayed fighter jets and attack aircraft. Images from the incident showed Yin saluting from the back of a convertible while driving rows of tanks and other weapons.
He has said that South Korea’s conventional weapons are the key to deterring North Korea, and that Seoul has been seeking more large-scale arms sales around the world.
Japan’s Defense Ministry said in a July report that North Korea has been firing short-range missiles with low and irregular flight trajectories, features observed since May 2019 that may have been designed to improve combat efficiency.
The UN Security Council has imposed sanctions on North Korea over its ballistic missile and nuclear tests. Pyongyang opposes moves that violate its sovereign rights to self-defense and space exploration.
North Korea has completed preparations for a nuclear test, South Korean lawmakers said on Wednesday, a window that could open between this month’s Chinese Communist Party congress and November’s U.S. midterm elections.
The two short-range missiles on Saturday were fired from Sunan, north of the capital Pyongyang, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. It has an estimated range of 350 kilometers (220 miles) at an altitude of 30 kilometers (20 miles) and a speed of Mach 6.
The Japan Coast Guard reported that Pyongyang conducted at least two suspected ballistic missile tests. Defense Minister Toshiro Ino said the missiles flew 400 kilometers and 350 kilometers, reaching an altitude of 50 kilometers.
Tokyo has protested to North Korea through diplomatic channels, Ino said, adding that the missiles may have flown “irregular trajectories” designed to evade missile defenses.
U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said it was aware of the ballistic missile launches and assessed that they did not pose a direct threat to U.S. personnel or territory or its allies.
North Korea fired missiles around Harris’ visit to South Korea, expanding this year’s record pace of weapons tests as it increases the threat of a credible nuclear force that could strike the United States and its allies.
Pyongyang also conducted its first ICBM test since 2017.
Analysts believe the accelerated pace of testing is an effort to create operational weapons and to “normalize” its testing in a world distracted by the Ukraine conflict and other crises.
“Despite its internal weaknesses and international isolation, North Korea is rapidly modernizing its weapons and taking advantage of a situation driven by U.S.-China competition and A world divided by Russia’s annexation of more Ukrainian territory.” in Seoul.
“The Kim regime is also taking a tough stance on the Yoon government, while South Korean politics is hobbled by infighting,” he said.