North Korea fired four short-range missiles into the sea of Japan Thursday, according to the defense minister of South Korea. Seoul responded to the North’s latest provocation by saying that it will remain vigilant in case Pyongyang provokes further escalation. Thursday’s launch shows little new capability for North Korea in missile design, but rather a common show of force.
Tensions had recently calmed somewhat between the two Koreas since last year with the South sending nearly $1 million in humanitarian aid to the North while both sides have participated in family reunions. North Korea threatened to pull out of the program due to the start of routine joint military exercises on Monday between the U.S. and South Korea, but ultimately acquiesced. These drills will involve 12,500 US troops and last until the end of April.
North Korea displays a missile during a military parade in Pyongyang last year. Photo: AFP)
Seoul and Washington maintain that the exercises are for defense purposes only, but Pyongyang argues they are a rehearsal for an invasion. Such military drills have occurred annually since 1976, and North Korea uses them as justification for belligerence. Last year the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, declared the Armistice of 1953 that ended the Korean War, invalid after a joint U.S.-South Korean military training exercise.
Kim Jong Un, who remains an enigma in the West, may be trying to follow in the bellicose footsteps of his father Kim Jong Il. His dictatorial regime often employs violence and strong rhetoric in an effort to assert power domestically and internationally. Late last year, Un unexpectedly executed his uncle, an influential and top-ranking official to ensure the loyalty of other leading government officials.
While North Korea’s strongest ally, China, has remained silent on the recent tests, Beijing has often shielded Pyongyang from outside criticism. Beijing denounced a scathing UN report on the North’s human rights violations earlier this month. But it’s ties to North Korea have also caused embarrassment to the Chinese government. UN findings also chastise China for forcibly repatriating many refugees back to the North, where they often face the death penalty.
Even with an uneasy relationship between the two Asian countries, China’s continuing veto threat in the UN Security Council has defended elites in North Korea from new Western-backed sanctions.