North Korea is once again testing the international community’s patience, this time firing two land-to-ship cruise missiles less than 24 hours after South Korea delayed any further rollout of its controversial THAAD anti-missile defense system.
Pyongyang conducted its latest missile test off its east coast Thursday. The move was immediately condemned by South Korea’s president, who warned North Korea that the only thing the country has to gain from unauthorized launches is “isolation and economic difficulties.”
China, true to routine, has called for restraint while Japanese politicians want more bomb shelters built in the face of Pyongyang’s growing aggression.
The latest round of missile launches came a day after South Korea’s new president Moon Jae-in announced he was suspending the rollout of a THAAD, designed to deter a missile attack from Pyongyang, which it is installing in collaboration with the U.S. Moon said he was delaying the further rollout of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) anti-missile defense system until an environmental assessment is completed. The system has angered China, which believes the radar system could be used to spy on its military positions and movements.
“North Korea fired several unidentified projectiles, assumed to be surface-to-ship cruise missiles, this morning in the direction of the East Sea from the vicinity of Wonsan, Gangwon Province,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, according to a report from South Korea’s Yonhap news agency. “The flight distance is around 200 km.”
The missiles tested Thursday are seen as more of a defensive weapon, and South Korean military spokesman Roh Jae-cheon said Pyongyang “likely wanted to show off its ability to precisely target a large warship,” following recent military exercises in the area conducted by the U.S. military in conjunction with South Korea and Japan.
Unlike most of the missiles the North has been testing recently, the cruise missiles used in this test would not violate UN Security Council sanctions, which only cover ballistic missile tests.
Joseph Dempsey, an analyst with the International Institute for Strategic Studies, and others have suggested that the missiles used were first unveiled during the high-profile military parade in April that marked the anniversary of the birth of the state’s founding leader.
Moon, elected May 9, warned that continuing down this path would not benefit Kim Jong Un or his people. “The only things North Korea can gain from these provocations are economic isolation and economic difficulties. They will lose their opportunities for development,” Moon said during his first National Security Council meeting as president.
Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Beijing wants all parties to exercise restraint and come together in a bid to to stabilize the region.
This year has marked a rapid uptick in the number of missile tests being carried out by the country, with Thursday’s launch marking the 13th test since the beginning of 2017.
Pyongyang’s ultimate goals are to develop the ability to put a nuclear warhead on a missile, while also building an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the U.S.
The UN Security Council imposed fresh sanctions against North Korea last week for its ongoing missile tests, which are a flagrant breach of sanctions imposed on the country.