A missile gameNorth Korea fired two medium-range ballistic missiles with a range of 500 kilometers (311 miles) into the East Sea yesterday. The North’s launch of Scud ballistic missiles marks the fourth time this year. Last Thursday, too, it fired three missiles into the East Sea, presumed to be from a new 300-milimeter multiple rocket launcher. The missiles’ range of 190 kilometers was longer than that of existing 300-milimeter multiple rocket launchers.
Calling them a “new type of guided missiles,” North Korea’s state mouthpiece said its leader Kim Jong-un also watched the test launch of the new missiles. Given Pyongyang’s description of the missiles as a new type they could likely be equipped with Russia’s Global Navigation Satellite System.
Scud missiles and multiple rocket launchers are a direct threat to our security. Scud missiles, which can be loaded with chemical weapons, can strike any part of South Korea. Its new multiple rocket launchers can reach Gyeryongdae in South Chungcheong, where our Army, Navy and Air Force are headquartered.
But the problem is that there are no effective systems to intercept these missiles. Given the chaos in national governance since the Sewol ferry disaster and the incomplete security and diplomacy line-up, we must carefully watch these alarming developments. Yesterday was the 12th anniversary of the second Yeonpyeong Sea Battle, in which six of our Navy men were killed in the North’s attack.
The timing of the missile launch commands our special attention. North Korea fired missiles and used multiple rocket launchers in February and March, when South Korea and the United States conducted joint military drills. North Korea could have fired the missiles to express its discontent ahead of Chinese leader Xi Jinping’s July 3 to 4 visit to Seoul. Xi is the first Chinese leader to visit Seoul Korea without first visiting Pyongyang. The North could have conducted a show of force to prevent the two leaders from delivering a stern message to the North during their summit. China should understand that a strategic partnership between Seoul and Beijing can be established only when it sends an unequivocal message to the North.
North Korea also could have aimed to test Japan’s attitudes ahead of its director-level meeting with Tokyo on Tuesday. Pyongyang is supposed to explain to Tokyo its plan to set up a special committee to settle the issue of Japanese abductees. Japan must sternly raise the issue of the North’s ballistic missiles if it wants to consolidate the traditional security cooperation among Seoul, Washington and Tokyo.
JoongAng Ilbo, June 30, Page 30