As South Korean-U.S. Freedom Shield military drills continue on Tuesday, North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast on the same day, according to Seoul’s military.
Fired about 7:40 a.m. (2240 GMT on Monday) from South Hwanghae province, near the country’s west coast, the two missiles flew about 620 kilometers, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said.
The event was met with the South Korean military being put on high alert and maintaining a full readiness posture in close coordination with the United States, the JCS said in a statement.
For his part, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan was collecting information on the missile, and that they have not confirmed any damage within the country related to the launch.
Japanese chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno stressed the missiles have not been confirmed to have flown into Japan’s territory or exclusive economic zones.
“We see there is a possibility that North Korea will step up further provocative actions, including missile launches and nuclear tests,” Matsuno said. “We will continue a close cooperation with the U.S. and South Korea over North Korea’s military moves, and gather and analyze information with surveillance.”
The latest launches did not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to its allies, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said, stressing, however, that the North’s unlawful weapons programs had a destabilizing effect.
South Korea’s military “strongly condemned” North Korea, dubbing the repeated missile launches a grave provocation threatening the region’s peace and security. A U.S. State Department spokesperson blasted the launches as a breach of multiple United Nations Security Council Resolutions.
“The South Korea-U.S. alliance will carry out our exercises and training as planned even if North Korea tries to hamper our Freedom Shield drills with provocations,” a spokesperson for South Korea’s defense ministry told a briefing.
The launch took place two days after North Korea test-fired what it alleged to be two strategic cruise missiles from a submarine. The developments unfolded less than a week after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered the military to step up drills aimed at deterring and responding to a “real war” if needs be.
The U.S.-S.Korean drills
Freedom Shield exercises were launched on Monday. Scheduled to last 11 days, they are held on a scale not seen since 2017 to counter the North’s growing threats. North Korea has long bridled at the allies’ exercises portraying them as a rehearsal for invasion.
North Korean state media KCNA reported on Sunday that the country has decided to take “important practical” war deterrence measures, saying, “war provocations of the U.S. and South Korea are reaching the red line.”
But Jake Sullivan, the U.S. National Security Adviser, said on Monday the U.S. would not let “any steps North Korea takes deter us or constrain us from the actions that we feel are necessary to safeguard stability on the Korean Peninsula.”
The United States will hold an informal meeting of United Nations Security Council members on Friday to discuss human rights abuses in North Korea.
North Korea has slammed the scheduled meeting branding it as “the most intensive expression” of U.S. “hostile policy” against Pyongyang. The autocratic communist pariah state went on to effectuate warnings it would take “the toughest counteraction”.