North Korea launched four missiles early Monday.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said three of the missiles came down in his country’s waters. He said they landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone about 350 kilometers from the Japanese mainland.
“The launches are clearly in violation of (United Nations) Security Council resolutions. It is an extremely dangerous action,” Abe said during questioning in parliament.
Also reacting, the United States said North Korea’s provocations “only serve to increase the international community’s resolve...Our commitment to the defense of our allies, including the Republic of Korea and Japan…remains ironclad,” said State Department acting spokesman Mark Toner.
Toner added, “We also call on the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) to refrain from provocative actions and inflammatory rhetoric that threaten international peace and stability, and to make the strategic choice to fulfill its international obligations and commitments and return to serious talks.”
The North Korean missiles traveled about 1,000 kilometers from where they were launched, in the northwestern part of the country. Their flight path suggests that they were not long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), however.
On New Year’s Day, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said his country would soon test an ICBM.
Launch protests military exercises, may pressure China
The launches took place as South Korea and the United States are holding joint military exercises. The North Korean government says the exercises are reason for North Koreans to prepare for an invasion.
Last year, North Korea launched missiles during the joint South Korean-U.S. exercises.
The missile launches on Monday were not unexpected.
Bruce Bennett of the RAND Corporation research group told VOA that the most recent launches may have been an attempt to pressure China.
“This was a launch that was intended to defy the United States and South Korea for doing the ongoing exercises, but it was also clearly pointed at China."
Last month, China said it would suspend coal imports from North Korea. Coal exports are an important way for the North Korean government to earn money.
Experts said China’s move was to punish the North for the apparent killing of the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
Malaysian officials say Kim Jong Nam died after being attacked by two women at the Kuala Lumpur international airport last month. They have blamed the banned nerve agent VX for his death.
Malaysia is seeking several North Koreans for questioning and has refused to release the body to North Korean officials.
Diplomatic relations between Malaysia and North Korea also have worsened. North Korea has said Malaysia has not carried out a fair investigation. Malaysia has expelled the North Korean ambassador and has ordered its top diplomat in North Korea to return home.
North Korean missile activity has increased
North Korea has increased activities in both its nuclear and missile programs since the start of 2016.
It has tested more than 25 missiles during that time. In February 2016, the North launched a satellite into space using ballistic missile technology banned by United Nations resolutions.
In reaction, the South Korean government approved deployment of the THAAD anti-missile system in the country. The costly defense system is designed to protect South Korea from the North Korean missile threat.
However, China opposes the placement of the missile system near its borders. Russia also has voiced concerns.
South Korea denounces latest test, political crisis continues
South Korean Prime Minister and acting president Hwang Kyo-ahn strongly denounced the latest missile tests by the North.
“Our government strongly condemns that North Korea fired ballistic missiles once again ignoring continuous warnings from South Korea and the international community,” Hwang said.
He added, “It is a challenge against the international community and a grave act of provocation.”
South Korea remains in a political crisis. President Park Geun-hye has been critical of North Korea’s banned nuclear and missile activities during her term in office. She has pushed for the THAAD missile system and closed the Kaesong economic area jointly operated with the North.
But she is fighting impeachment on corruption charges. The country’s constitutional court is now considering the case against her. If Park is removed from office, the country will be required to hold its presidential election earlier this year than planned.
I’m Mario Ritter.
Smita Nordwall, Fern Robinson, Brian Padden and Victor Beattie reported this story for VOANews.com. Mario Ritter adapted the story for Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
Words in This Story
exclusive – adj. available to only one person or group
provocative – adj. causing discussion or argument
ironclad –adj. very strong and secure, too strong to change
inflammatory – adj. causing anger
obligations – n. things that are required to be done by a rule or law
ballistic missile – n. a weapon able to travel great distances
defy – v. to refuse to obey
challenge – n. the act of questioning authority or some action
grave – adj. very serious
impeachment – n. the action of charging a public official with crimes while in office