N. Korea threatens more launches after fourth test in 12 days

North Korea threatened Tuesday to carry out
more weapons tests after it fired its fourth set of projectiles in less than
two weeks following the start of joint exercises between the US and the
South.

The rising temperature on the peninsula threatens to derail putative
negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington, with the North saying the
combined drills were a “flagrant violation” of the process.

Pyongyang has always been infuriated by military exercises between the
South and US, seeing them as rehearsals for invasion, but in the past it has
tended to avoid carrying out missile tests while the war games were taking
place.

The speed of its statement Tuesday was also unusual, coming within an hour
of it carrying out its launch, rather than its usual practice of a day later.

The North fired “two projectiles that are assumed to be short-range
ballistic missiles” from South Hwanghae province on its west coast, Seoul’s
Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

They flew around 450 kilometres across the peninsula and into the East Sea,
also known as the Sea of Japan, reaching an altitude of 37 kilometres and a
speed of “at least Mach 6.9”, they said.

That puts them around the middle of the range of the projectiles that have
been fired by the North four times in the past 12 days.

Seoul has described most of them as short-range ballistic missiles — the
North is banned from ballistic missile launches under UN Security Council
resolutions — while Pyongyang has said some were a “large-calibre multiple-
launch guided rocket system”.

The latest launch came after the South Korean and US militaries began
mainly computer-simulated joint exercises on Monday to test Seoul’s ability
to take operational control in wartime.

Less than an hour after the North’s weapons test, an official of its
foreign ministry said the drills were “an undisguised denial and a flagrant
violation” of the diplomatic process between Pyongyang, Washington and Seoul.

All joint drills between the South and the US were “aggressive war
exercises simulating the surprise and preemptive attack on the DPRK”, the
spokesperson said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.

“So we are compelled to develop, test and deploy the powerful physical
means essential for national defence,” the official added. “The US and south
Korean authorities cannot counter this even though they have ten mouths.”

The North attacked its neighbour in 1950, triggering the Korean War, but
has long argued it needs nuclear weapons to defend itself against invasion
from the US.

Jeong Young-tae, director of the Institute of North Korean Studies in
Seoul, said that the North’s weapons tests during the drills were a “bold
move” that “may indicate that it is now much more confident in its military
capabilities than it used to be”.

“The North is now showing — in a very blunt manner — that it will take
countervailing measures if the US and South Korea continue with these joint
annual drills,” he told AFP.

– ‘Fruitless and exhausting’ –

After a year of mutual threats and mounting tension, US President Donald
Trump and the North’s Kim Jong Un held a historic summit in Singapore last
year, where both leaders signed a vague pledge to work towards
“denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula”.

A second summit in Hanoi in February broke up amid disagreements over
sanctions relief and concessions from the North.

Trump and Kim agreed to resume nuclear talks during an impromptu June
meeting in the Demilitarized Zone that divides the peninsula, but that
working-level dialogue has yet to begin.

Analysts say the military manoeuvres on both sides could see discussions
pushed back until the autumn, and Pyongyang signalled Tuesday that it was in
no mood to talk.

“A constructive dialogue cannot be expected at a time when a simulated war
practice targeted at the dialogue partner is being conducted,” said the
foreign ministry spokesperson.

“There is no need to have a fruitless and exhausting dialogue with those
who do not have a sense of communication,” they added.

After the Singapore summit, Trump made a shock announcement halting joint
drills, adopting Pyongyang’s own description of them as “provocative” at an
extraordinary, freewheeling press conference.

War games known as Ulchi Freedom Guardian (UFG) and scheduled for August
last year were subsequently suspended.

And the allies’ biggest annual drills, Foal Eagle and Key Resolve, which
took place every spring and involved tens of thousands of troops, were
replaced with a shorter “Dong Maeng” or “Alliance” exercise in March.