Pyongyang fired “several cruise missiles” into the Yellow Sea on Saturday, between the Korean peninsula and China, the Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said, but remains silent on the fate of the American serviceman who escaped to its territory from the South on Tuesday.
Missile fire took place around 4 a.m. local time on Saturday (7 p.m. GMT Friday). They come three days after those of two ballistic missiles, this time in the Sea of Japan, on the opposite east coast.
“South Korean and US intelligence are analyzing the launches while monitoring for signs of additional activity,” the South Korean military added. Relations between the two Koreas are at an all-time low, with diplomacy stalled and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un calling for an accelerated arms race, including tactical nuclear weapons.
These latest cruise missile firings come as a US soldier, Travis King, crossed into North Korea on Tuesday from the south and is possibly being held there by authorities, according to the US military. The soldier, who was serving a prison sentence in South Korea for assault, had to return to the United States to face disciplinary sanctions.
The Pentagon without news
North Korea had still not given any news of him to Washington on Friday, the American army saying it was “very concerned” about the fate and “the way in which Travis King could be treated”.
“The Pentagon has attempted to contact the North Korean military to inquire about King’s situation but has received no response,” State Department spokesman Matt Miller said Thursday.
Seoul responded the next day to these threats by reaffirming that any such attack would trigger a response leading to the “end” of Kim Jong Un’s regime.
Call to China
North Korea has been subject to international sanctions since 2006, increased three times in 2017. The measures taken that year unanimously by the Security Council to force Pyongyang to interrupt its nuclear and ballistic weapons programs notably limit North Korea’s oil imports.
According to a letter seen by AFP on Friday, the United States, the European Union, South Korea and other countries have requested China’s “assistance” to prevent North Korea from circumventing UN oil sanctions by using Chinese territorial waters. The document is signed by the UN ambassadors of Australia, Canada, France, EU, Germany, Italy, Japan, New Zealand, South Korea, UK and USA.
They seek assistance from their Chinese counterpart Zhang Jun, saying they are particularly “worried about the repeated presence of multiple tankers” identified by the UN Sanctions Panel of Experts “who are using your national waters in Sansha Bay as a haven to facilitate their trade in sanctioned petroleum products” to North Korea.
Badly perceived maneuvers
In May 2022, China and Russia vetoed a resolution imposing new sanctions on Pyongyang, and no Council resolution or statement has been adopted since.
The United States in particular regularly accuses Beijing and Moscow of serving as a “shield” for the North Korean regime and of encouraging new firings by preventing a united response from the Council. US, South Korean and Japanese leaders are due to meet in August in the United States to strengthen their cooperation in the face of growing threats from Pyongyang.
During the same month, Washington and Seoul are due to begin their major annual joint military exercises, dubbed the Ulchi Freedom Shield. These exercises are very badly perceived by North Korea, which sees in them rehearsals for an invasion of its territory.
This article is originally published on lequotidien.lu