North Korea fired a volley of short-range missiles into the sea on Thursday, hours after the United Nations Security Council unanimously voted to impose some of its strongest ever sanctions on the isolated state and South Korean President Park Geun-hye vowed to "end tyranny" by the North's leader.
The firing escalated tensions on the Korean peninsula, which have been high since the North's January nuclear test and February long-range rocket launch, and set the South's military on a heightened alert.
South Korea's Defense Ministry said it was trying to determine if the projectiles, launched at 10am (9pm Wednesday EST) from the North's east coast, were short-range missiles or artillery fire. An official from the joint chiefs of staff said the six projectiles flew about 60-90 miles before landing in the sea, reported the Guardian.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei, asked about the projectiles, said China hoped all parties could refrain from actions that escalate tension.
President Park has been tough in her response to the North's recent actions, moving from her earlier self-described "trustpolitik" approach, and on Thursday welcomed the move by the Security Council and repeated her call for the North to change its behavior.
"We will cooperate with the world to make the North Korean regime abandon its reckless nuclear development and end tyranny that oppresses freedom and human rights of our brethren in the North," Park said at a Christian prayer meeting on Thursday.
In its latest barrage of insults against the South's leader, the North's official media carried a commentary on Wednesday likening Park to an "ugly female bat," fated to "die in the dreary cave, its body hanging down."
Among the 19-page resolution's elements, countries will be required to inspect all cargo entering and leaving North Korea, and if fully enforced would effectively create a blockade of the already-isolated nation, which is officially known as the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK).
North Korea faces harsh new sanctions for its nuclear weapons program under the resolution passed unanimously by the Security Council on Wednesday, drafted by the United States and backed by the North's main ally, China.
In addition to implementing mandatory cargo inspections, the resolution bans the export, with certain exceptions, of several commodities, including iron, coal, and rare earth metals, which North Korea has used to finance its nuclear program. Additionally, countries will now be explicitly prohibited from selling North Korea aircraft fuel, including the type used to fuel its rockets, as well as all small arms and conventional weapons. Luxury goods, such as watches, jet skis, and snowmobiles will also now be banned.
The resolution, which dramatically expands existing sanctions, follows the North's fourth nuclear test on January 6 and a long-range rocket launch on February 7, which the United States and South Korea said violated existing Security Council resolutions.
The North says it has a sovereign right to launch rockets as part of a space program to put satellites into orbit.
Previous resolutions, dating back to 1993, have failed to stymie the nuclear ambitions of North Korea, which views its arsenal as a necessity for self-preservation. In the past, China has pushed back on some of the most stringent proposals put forward by the US and other countries, but this year they appeared to give ground, agreeing to severe and punitive measures against its neighbor.
From inspecting visiting North Korean ships to paring back coal imports, the burden of enforcing the new sanctions on Pyongyang will fall mainly on China, which wants to punish its ally for nuclear violations without squeezing it to the point of crisis.
Speaking after news emerged of the latest projectile firing, China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Lei urged all sides to remain calm.
"At present the situation on the Korean peninsula is complicated and sensitive. We hope that all sides will not take any more actions to increase tensions," he said.
"The passing of this resolution shows the consensus of the international community, and we hope that all sides can comprehensively and diligently implement this resolution."
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