The conflict between Ukraine and Russia has been accompanied by renewed tensions in the Far East. China is putting renewed pressure on Taiwan, while Russia and Japan are at odds over the Kuril Islands. North Korea has entered the fray, having launched ballistic missiles at sea in the space of a few days, just as U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is visiting the region.
A first missile was launched by North Korea at sea in an easterly direction—toward the Sea of Japan—on Saturday, September 24th, followed by a second on Sunday 25th, while a U.S. aircraft carrier was in the area for manoeuvres. This is not the first time the Korean communist regime has engaged in such a show of force. The previous missile launch was in June this year. Just before that, in May, Pyongyang launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017. In early September the regime adopted a new doctrine proclaiming that the country will never give up nuclear weapons.
The South Korean government expressed its concern in a statement on Sunday after the second missile was launched: “North Korea’s launch of a ballistic missile is an act of grave provocation that threatens the peace and security of the Korean peninsula and international community.” Even though the missile may have landed in waters beyond Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Japan’s defence minister called the North Korean move “absolutely unforgivable,” and said his country was closely monitoring the technological advances made by the North Korean regime.
The attempt to intimidate comes as Vice President Kamala Harris is travelling to visit Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol before heading to consult with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. South Korea and the U.S. have scheduled joint military exercises. The issue of possible Chinese aggression against Taiwan is at the heart of these meetings.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Fleet Command is also on the alert and shares regular exchanges with the South Korean army. The shots fired by North Korea have provided an opportunity to reaffirm the U.S.’ commitment to the security of both South Korea and Japan.