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North and South Korea conduct ballistic missile tests

South Korea tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). Source: Reuters.

SEOUL: North Korea and South Korea both test fired ballistic missiles on Wednesday, the latest in an arms race that has seen both countries develop increasingly sophisticated weapons.

South Korea tested a submarine-launched ballistic missile(SLBM), becoming the first country without nuclear weapons to develop such a system. South Korean President Moon was attending that test firing when word came of North Korea launching its first ballistic missile tests since March.

North Korea fired a pair of ballistic missiles that landed in the sea off its east coast just days after it tested a cruise missile that is believed to have nuclear capabilities.

North Korea has been steadily developing its weapons systems amid a standoff over talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals in return for US sanctions relief. 

“North Korea fired two unidentified ballistic missiles from its central inland region toward the east coast, and intelligence authorities of South Korea and the United States are conducting detailed analysis for further information,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a statement.

The missiles were fired just after 12:30 p.m. (0330 GMT), flying 800 km (497 miles) to a maximum altitude of 60 km (37 miles), the JCS reported. The US military’s Indo-Pacific Command said North Korea’s missile launches did not pose an immediate threat to US personnel, territory, or allies, but highlight the destabilising impact of its illicit weapons programme.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called the missile launch “outrageous” and strongly condemned it as a threat to peace and security in the region. China’s foreign ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily briefing that China hoped “relevant parties” would “exercise restraint”.

South Korea has been splurging on a range of new military systems, including ballistic missiles, submarines, and its first aircraft carrier. It has a stated policy of non-proliferation of nuclear weapons and a nuclear-free Korean peninsula.

Officials at the SLBM test announced the development of several other advanced missiles including a supersonic cruise missile and a ballistic missile with a larger warhead. Moon cited the nuclear-armed North’s “asymmetric capabilities” as a reason for South Korea to develop better missiles.

“Enhancing our missile capability is exactly what’s needed as deterrence against North Korea’s provocation,” he said, while stressing that the SLBM test had been planned and was not in response to the North’s launches. Unlike the South, North Korea’s ballistic missile systems have been banned by UN Security Council resolutions.

In November 2017, North Korea tested an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching the entire United States and declared it had become a nuclear power. It has since focused mainly on testing shorter-range missile and rockets. North Korea this year declared it was seeking to miniaturise nuclear warheads, which could potentially be fitted to tactical missiles.

READ MORE: North Korea accuses UNSC of ‘double standard’ over missile tests

The latest launch came as foreign ministers of South Korea and China held talks in Seoul amid concern over North Korea’s tests and the stalled denuclearisation negotiations. read more

North Korea said it successfully tested a new long-range cruise missile last weekend, calling it “a strategic weapon of great significance”. Analysts say that weapon could be its first cruise missile with a nuclear capability.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, when asked about the cruise missile tests, said all parties should work to promote peace and stability on the Korean peninsula. “Not only North Korea but other countries are carrying out military activity,” he told reporters. “All of us should make efforts in a way that helps resume dialogue.”

In a meeting on Wednesday, Moon asked for China’s support to restart dialogue, saying North Korea had not been responding to South Korean and US offers for talks or engagement such as humanitarian aid. US envoy Sung Kim said on Tuesday the United States has no hostile intent towards North Korea and hoped it would respond positively to calls for talks.