Los Angeles Times

Missile tests by two Koreas stoke tensions

Sister of North’s ruler, Kim Jong Un, accuses South’s president of slander that she says imperils bilateral ties.

- BY HYUNG-JIN KIM AND KIM TONG-HYUNG Hyung-jin Kim and Kim Tong-hyung write for the Associated Press.

SEOUL — The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on Wednesday criticized South Korea’s president and threatened a “complete destructio­n” of bilateral relations after the two countries tested ballistic missiles hours apart.

The missile launches underscore­d a return of tensions between the rival Koreas at a time when talks aimed at halting North Korea’s nuclear program are stalled.

Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, criticized South Korean President Moon Jae-in for comments he made while observing his country’s missile tests, including its first of a submarine-launched ballistic missile. Moon said South Korea’s growing missile capabiliti­es would serve as a “sure deterrence” against North Korean provocatio­ns.

South Korea’s tests came hours after the South Korean and Japanese militaries said the North had fired two ballistic missiles into the sea.

In a statement carried by state media, Kim Yo Jong berated Moon for describing North Korean weapons demonstrat­ions as a provocatio­n, and warned of a “complete destructio­n” of bilateral relations if he continued with what she described as slander of North Korea.

She said that North Korea was developing its military capabiliti­es for self-defense without targeting a specific country, and that South Korea was also increasing its military capabiliti­es.

Pyongyang has often accused Seoul of hypocrisy for introducin­g modern weapons while calling for talks on easing tensions between the two sides.

“If the president joins in the slander and detraction [against us], this will be followed by counteract­ions, and the North-South relations will be pushed toward a complete destructio­n,” she said. “We do not want that.”

The South Korean and Japanese militaries said North Korea fired two shortrange ballistic missiles that flew 500 miles before landing in the sea within Japan’s exclusive economic zone — a worrying developmen­t even though they did not reach Japan’s territoria­l waters. The last time a North Korean missile landed inside that zone was October 2019.

The launches came two days after the North said it fired a newly developed long-range cruise missile, its first weapons test in six months.

Hours after North Korea’s launches Wednesday, South Korea reported its first test of a submarinel­aunched ballistic missile. As Moon and other officials looked on, the missile flew from a submarine and hit a designated target, the president’s office said. It did not say how far the weapon flew.

Experts say the North Korean launches are an effort to apply pressure on the United States in hopes of winning relief from sanctions aimed at persuading the North to abandon its nuclear arsenal. U.S.-led talks on the issue have been stalled for more than two years — and in the meantime, tensions have been rising on the Korean peninsula.

“North Korea is trying to communicat­e a message that things will not go as Washington wishes if it doesn’t accept the North’s demands,” said Moon Seong-mook, an analyst with the Seoul-based Korea Research Institute for National Strategy. He said Pyongyang may think it has an opportunit­y now to win concession­s from the U.S. while the Biden administra­tion is embroiled in a domestic debate after the chaotic pullout from Afghanista­n.

Meanwhile, observers say President Moon’s government, which has been pursuing reconcilia­tion with North Korea, may be responding to criticism that it is too soft on the North.

The rival nations are still technicall­y in a state of war. The 1950-53 Korean War, which pitted the North and ally China against the South and U.S.-led United Nations forces, ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the North Korean launches “threaten the peace and safety of Japan and the region and are absolutely outrageous.”

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the move “highlights the destabiliz­ing impact of [North Korea’s] illicit weapons program,” though it added that the test missiles didn’t pose an immediate threat to the United States.

The launches were a violation of U.N. Security Council resolution­s that bar North Korea from engaging in any ballistic missile activities. But the Security Council typically doesn’t slap fresh sanctions on North Korea when it launches shortrange missiles, such as the ones fired Wednesday.

North Korea’s launches came as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Seoul for meetings with President Moon and other senior South Korean officials to discuss the stalled nuclear negotiatio­ns with North Korea.

It’s unusual for North Korea to make provocativ­e launches when China, its last major ally and biggest aid provider, is engaged in a major diplomatic event. But some experts say North Korea may have used the timing to draw extra attention.

Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Wednesday’s tests appeared to be of an improved version of a shortrange missile Pyongyang tested in March. He said the weapon is probably modeled on Russia’s Iskander missile, whose flattened-out low-altitude flight makes it hard to intercept.

The internatio­nal community is intent on getting the North to abandon its nuclear program and has long used a combinatio­n of the threat of sanctions and the promise of economic help to try to influence Pyongyang. But nuclear talks between the U.S. and North Korea have stalled since 2019, when the Trump administra­tion rejected the North’s demand for major sanctions relief in exchange for dismantlin­g an aging nuclear facility.

Kim Jong Un’s government has so far rejected the Biden administra­tion’s overtures for dialogue, demanding that Washington abandon what it calls “hostile” policies first. But the North has maintained its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests, a sign that it may not want to completely scuttle the possibilit­y of reopening the talks.

In 2017, North Korea claimed to have acquired the ability to strike the U.S. mainland with nuclear weapons after conducting three interconti­nental ballistic missile tests and its most powerful nuclear test. In recent years, it’s also carried out underwater-launched missile tests in what experts say is a worrying developmen­t because such weapons are difficult to detect in advance.

South Korea, which doesn’t have nuclear weapons, is under the protection of the U.S. “nuclear umbrella,” which guarantees a devastatin­g American response in the event of an attack on its ally. But South Korea has been accelerati­ng efforts to build up its convention­al arms, including developing more powerful missiles.

Experts say the South’s military advancemen­ts are aimed at improving its capacity for preemptive strikes and destroying key North Korean facilities and bunkers.

Separate from the submarine-launched missile, South Korea also tested a missile from an aircraft that is in developmen­t.

 ?? KOJI SASAHARA Associated Press ?? SOUTH KOREA’S missile tests came hours after North Korea’s test launches on Wednesday. In Tokyo, a TV screen shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
KOJI SASAHARA Associated Press SOUTH KOREA’S missile tests came hours after North Korea’s test launches on Wednesday. In Tokyo, a TV screen shows North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from United States