South Korea has placed its forces in a heightened state of readiness as North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un pressed on with a series of military maneuvers including missile tests and aircraft flights near the heavily fortified border between the two rival nations.
In a particularly tense day for the Korean Peninsula, North Korea flew up to 10 aircraft near the Special Reconnaissance Line, a boundary designated by South Korea within North Korean territory to warrant a tactical response if crossed, on Thursday. South Korea scrambled its own jets in response and yet another North Korean missile launch was detected in the Sea of Japan, referred to in the Koreas as the East Sea.
A spokesperson for the National Defense Ministry of South Korea referred to the latest series of escalations by North Korea as “a critical provocation to damage international peace and regional stability.”
“Our military is keeping strong military posture on high alert on the condition of cooperation with U.S,” the spokesperson told Newsweek on Friday.
That same day, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff reported on the firing of up to 80 artillery shells by the North Korean military, officially known as the Korean People’s Army (KPA).
The report followed a statement by the KPA General Staff, which asserted that “the south Korean army conducted an artillery fire for about 10 hours near the forward defence area of the KPA Fifth Corps on Oct. 13,” according to the official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
“Taking a serious note of this provocative action by the South Korean military in the frontline area, we took strong military countermeasures,” the statement said. “The KPA sends a stern warning to the south Korean military inciting military tension in the frontline area with reckless action.”
Kim has put himself on the front lines of the escalations, having overseen the launch of “long-range strategic cruise missiles” on Wednesday, according to KCNA.
The North Korean ruler then praised his “nuclear combat forces,” which he said, “proved again their full preparedness for actual war to bring the enemies under their control at a blow through the unconditional, mobile, precise and powerful counterstrike by any weapon system.”
“Stressing again that the test-fire is…another clear warning to the enemies and the practical verification and clear demonstration of the absolute reliability and combat capacity of our state’s war deterrent,” the outlet reported. “Kim Jong Un added that we should continue to expand the operational sphere of the nuclear strategic armed forces to resolutely deter any crucial military crisis and war crisis at any time and completely take the initiative in it.”
Kim has justified his actions as being a response to military activities by his foes, including the U.S. decision to send an aircraft carrier strike group to the region and pursue joint exercises with South Korea and Japan.
U.S. officials have repeatedly joined their South Korean and Japanese counterparts in condemning North Korean missile tests. In response to the latest launch, U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said its forces “will continue consulting closely with our allies and partners to monitor the DPRK’s destabilizing ballistic missile launches” in a statement shared with Newsweek.
“The U.S. commitments to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remain ironclad,” the command said.
China and Russia have avoided directly criticizing North Korea and have instead echoed Kim’s criticisms of the maneuvers pursued by the U.S. and its allies. Both Beijing and Moscow have also called for a diplomatic resolution rather than continued military and economic pressure against Pyongyang, as dialogue has been largely frozen since the unraveling of a historic peace process in 2019.
Commenting on the latest North Korea missile launch, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a press briefing Friday that “all parties need to face the crux of the persistent impasse on the Korean Peninsula squarely, continue to seek a political settlement, avoid a spiral of escalation and work to create conditions for the resumption of meaningful dialogue.”
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