North Korea fires ballistic missiles in "calculated" jab at Blinken visit

Pyongyang, North Korea - North Korea fired multiple short-range ballistic missiles on Monday in what analysts said was a calculated move to grab attention as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visits South Korea for talks.

North Korea fired several short-range ballistic missiles on Monday, the South Korean military confirmed.
North Korea fired several short-range ballistic missiles on Monday, the South Korean military confirmed.  © ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP

Blinken is attending the third Summit for Democracy and met President Yoon Suk Yeol in Seoul early Monday. He is also meeting his South Korean counterpart on the sidelines of the event, for discussions now likely to be dominated by the allies' efforts to counter threats from the nuclear-armed North.

Washington and Seoul wrapped up one of their major annual joint military training exercises last week, prompting angry retorts and live-fire drills from nuclear-armed Pyongyang, which condemns all such exercises as rehearsals for invasion.

Seoul's military said it had detected the launch of "multiple short-range ballistic missiles" early Monday, which flew around 186 miles before coming down into the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan.

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"We are closely sharing relevant information with the US and Japan and are maintaining utmost readiness," the Joint Chiefs of Staff added.

After meeting Yoon, Blinken "condemned the... launch of ballistic missiles by the DPRK and reaffirmed the United States' ironclad commitment to the ROK's security," spokesperson Matthew Miller said.

North Korea flexes muscles during Blinken trip

US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in Seoul on Monday.
US Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in Seoul on Monday.  © ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP

Pyongyang this month warned that Seoul and Washington would pay a "dear price" over their annual Freedom Shield joint drills, and later announced that North Korean leader Kim Jong-un had guided an artillery unit it says was capable of striking the South Korean capital.

"It's a highly calculated move timing-wise by Pyongyang to fire multiple missiles to show they are capable of doing such an act even when the top US diplomat is in town," Professor Choi Gi-il of military studies at Sangji University told AFP.

North Korea typically stages missile launches "as a tit-for-tat" after US-South Korea joint drills, Han Kwon-hee of Korea Association of Defence Industry Studies told AFP.

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Blinken's presence only adds to their motivation, he said, as it "means more attention from Washington and adds pressure on host Seoul."

Kim Jong-un's game of "one-upmanship"

So far this year, Pyongyang has declared South Korea its "principal enemy", jettisoned agencies dedicated to reunification and outreach, and threatened war over "even 0.001 millimeter" of territorial infringement.

"While South Korea conducted defense training last week alongside international partners, Kim Jong-un personally supervised several military exercises, and now while Seoul hosts a summit of democracies, North Korea fires more missiles," said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

"The Kim regime's one-upmanship aims to show strength to its domestic audience, suggest costs on the Korean Peninsula for Seoul’s international security cooperation, and warn Washington against increasing pressure on Pyongyang."

Cover photo: ANTHONY WALLACE / AFP

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