29 Sep 2022

North Korea fires two ballistic missiles ahead of US Vice President Kamala Harris' Seoul visit

9:30 am on 29 September 2022

By Hyonhee Shin

US Vice President Kamala Harris speaks before departing for travel to Southeast Asia, her first trip to this region as vice president to meet with government, private sector, and civil society leaders, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, 20 August 2021.

US Vice President Kamala Harris is due to visit South Korea today. Photo: AFP / Pool

North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Wednesday, South Korea's military said, a day before US Vice President Kamala Harris is set to arrive in Seoul.

The launch came two days after South Korea and US forces conducted a military drill in waters off the South's east coast involving an aircraft carrier. On Sunday, North Korea fired another ballistic missile towards the sea off its east coast.

Wednesday's missiles were launched from the Sunan area of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, between 6.10pm and 6.20pm (10.10pm - 10.20pm NZT) South Korea's joint chiefs of staff said.

They flew about 360 kilometres, reaching an altitude of 30km and a maximum velocity of Mach 6 (7,450km/h), they said, adding a detailed analysis was underway.

"North Korea's provocations will further strengthen the South Korean-US deterrence and response capability, and only deepen North Korea's isolation from the international community," the joint chiefs said in a statement.

South Korea's national security council held an emergency meeting and condemned the test, vowing to continue building "overwhelming" capacity to deter North Korea, President Yoon Suk-yeol's office said in a separate statement.

North Korean state media did not mention the reports of the latest launches, but its leader Kim Jong Un has said its development of nuclear weapons and missiles are meant to defend North Korea against US threats.

Japan's coast guard also reported a suspected ballistic missile test, which its minister of state for defence, Toshiro Ino, condemned as "unacceptable". He said Pyongyang's repeated missile launches imperilled Japanese and international security.

Following a stop in Japan, Harris will today land in the South Korean capital and visit the heavily fortified Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) between the neighbours.

In a speech hours earlier aboard the destroyer USS Howard in the Japanese city of Yokosuka, Harris called Sunday's missile launch part of an "illicit weapons programme which threatens regional stability and violates multiple UN Security Council resolutions".

The US Indo-Pacific Command said the latest launch highlighted the "destabilising impact" of the North's unlawful weapons programmes.

A US State Department spokesperson also condemned the test as a regional threat, but said Washington remained committed to a diplomatic approach and urged Pyongyang to engage in dialogue.

North Korea has tested missiles at an unprecedented pace this year, while this week's joint drill is a show of force intended to warn against what could be Pyongyang's first nuclear test since 2017.

The isolated country has completed preparations for a nuclear test, a window for which could open between China's party congress in October and the US mid-term elections in November, South Korean lawmakers said on Wednesday.

- Reuters

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