N. Korea fires several short-range projectiles

SEOULNorth Korea red several unidentified projectiles as Kim Jong Un’s regime escalated threats against US-South Korea joint military drills and continued to defy a United Nations call to halt its nuclear weapons development.

The projectiles, launched at 6:49am on Saturday from Gangwon Province, flew 250km (155 miles) in a northeasterly direction, South Korea’s joint chief of staff said in a text message.

The launch breaks what appeared to be an easing of tensions on the Korean peninsula. North Korea has conducted more than a dozen missile tests this year as Kim’s regime seeks the capability to hit the continental US with a nuclear weapon.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in called a national security council meeting.

As the detente neared a month, Trump said last Tuesday North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is beginning to respect the US, comments that suggested his administration was moving closer to seeking talks over Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal.

The US and its allies had warned Kim against launching missiles toward Guam, home to key American military bases in the Pacific. Japan deployed four Patriot missile interceptors into the western part of the country, under the flight path toward the US territory.

Earlier this month, the United Nations Security Council voted unanimously to tighten sanctions on North Korea, targeting about a third of the nation’s roughly US$3 billion (RM12.84 billion) in exports. Kim’s regime has said it won’t give up its nuclear weapons and missile programme until  the US drops its “hostile” policies. North Korea has produced a miniaturised nuclear warhead that can fit atop its missiles, surpassing a key technological hurdle, the Washington Post reported on Aug 8, citing a Defence Intelligence Agency analysis completed in July. North Korea claimed it achieved that milestone after a  nuclear test last year.

An intercontinental ballistic missile  launched on July 28 reached an altitude of 3,700km and flew for 45 minutes, giving it a range of about 10,000km if fired at a typical trajectory. It’s unclear whether the re-entry vehicles required to deliver a nuclear warhead survived intact.

The regime has been conducting separate tests of a nuclear bomb, with the most recent detonation occurring last September.

Kim’s provocations are a headache for South Korea’s new President Moon, who won office in May pledging to engage with the regime to help bring peace to the peninsula. Moon said in a Berlin speech last month that he was willing, under the right circumstances, to meet Kim “anytime, anywhere”.

North Korea has yet to respond to an offer by Moon to seek a deal by 2020 to bring about the “complete denuclearisation” of the isolated nation in return for a peace treaty that would guarantee the survival of Kim’s regime.

China has been cautious about squeezing Kim too hard given concerns it could spark a messy collapse of his regime and a refugee crisis on its border. Beijing also worries that such a development could lead to a beefed-up US military presence in the area. — Bloomberg