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North Korea and South Korea fire missiles and Kim Jong Un’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, warns of ‘destruction’ of relations

The powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has criticised South Korea’s president and threatened a “complete destruction” of bilateral relations after both of the countries tested ballistic missiles hours apart.

The launches of missiles underscored a return of tensions between the rivals at a time when talks aimed at stripping North Korea of its nuclear program are stalled.

Kim’s sister, Kim Yo Jong, criticised South Korean President Moon Jae-in for comments he made while observing his country’s missile tests, including its first of a submarine-launched ballistic missile.

Kim Yo Jong, sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, has issued a stern warning to South Korea.. (AP)

Mr Moon said South Korea’s growing missile capabilities will serve as a “sure deterrence” against North Korean provocations.

The tests came hours after the South Korean and Japanese militaries said North Korea had fired two ballistic missiles into the sea.

In a statement carried by state media, Ms Kim berated Mr Moon for describing North Korean weapons demonstrations as a provocation, and warned of a “complete destruction” of bilateral relations if he continues with what she described as slander of North Korea.

She said North Korea is developing its military capabilities for self-defense without targeting a specific country, and that South Korea is also increasing its military capabilities.

North Korea has often accused the South of hypocrisy for introducing modern weapons while calling for talks on easing tensions between the divided countries.

King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia of Spain receive South Korean President Moon Jae-in and first lady Kim Jung-sook at the Royal Palace on June 15, 2021
South Korean President Moon Jae-in (pictured with first lady Kim Jung-sook) said Mr Moon said his country’s growing missile capabilities will serve as a “sure deterrence” against North Korean provocations. (Getty)

“If the president joins in the slander and detraction (against us), this will be followed by counter actions, and the North-South relations will be pushed toward a complete destruction,” she said.

The South Korean and Japanese militaries said the two short-range ballistic missiles fired by North Korea flew 800km before landing in the sea inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone — a worrying development even though they did not reach Japanese territorial waters. The last time a North Korean missile landed inside that zone was in October 2019.

South Korea’s first underwater-launched ballistic missile was test-fired from a submarine at an undisclosed location in South Korea on Wednesday. (South Korea Defence Ministry via AP) (AP)

The launches came two days after the North said it fired a newly developed cruise missile, its first weapons test in six months. 

Experts say the North Korean launches are an effort to apply pressure on the United States in the hopes of winning relief from sanctions aimed at persuading the North to abandon its nuclear arsenal. 

US-led talks on the issue have been stalled for more than two years — and in the meantime, tensions have been rising on the Korean Peninsula. 

Meanwhile, observers say South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s government, which has been actively pursuing reconciliation with North Korea, may have taken action to appear tougher in response to criticism that it’s too soft on the North. 

People watch a TV screen showing a news program reporting about North Korea’s long-range cruise missiles tests with an image in Seoul, South Korea, Monday, Sept. 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)

The rival nations are still technically in a state of war since the 1950-53 Korean War, which pitted the North and ally China against the South and US-led UN forces, ended in an armistice, not a peace treaty.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the launches “threaten the peace and safety of Japan and the region and are absolutely outrageous.” 

The US Indo-Pacific Command said the move “highlights the destabilising impact of (North Korea’s) illicit weapons program” though it said it didn’t pose an immediate threat to the US.

The South Korean test will likely infuriate the North, which has often accused its rival of hypocrisy for introducing modern weapons while calling for talks between the divided countries.

Long-range cruise missiles reportedly tested at an undisclosed location in North Korea.
Long-range cruise missiles reportedly tested at an undisclosed location in North Korea. (AP)

The launches represent a violation of UN Security Council resolutions that bar North Korea from engaging in any ballistic missile activity. 

But the council typically doesn’t impose new sanctions when the North launches short-range missiles, like Wednesday’s. 

Wednesday’s tests came as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Seoul for meetings with Mr Moon and other senior officials to discuss North Korea and other issues.

It’s unusual for North Korea to make provocative launches when China, its last major ally and biggest aid provider, is engaged in a major diplomatic event. But some experts say North Korea may have used the timing to draw extra attention. 

Kim Dong-yub, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Wednesday’s tests appeared to be of an improved version of a short-range missile it tested in March. He said the weapon is likely modelled on Russia’s Iskander missile, whose flattened-out low altitude flight makes it hard to intercept.

Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, left, poses with South Korean Foreign Minister Chung Eui-yong, for a photograph before their meeting at the Foreign Ministry in Seoul, South Korea. (Kim Seung-doo/Yonhap via AP)

The international community is bent on getting the North to abandon its nuclear program and has long used a combination of the threat of sanctions and the promise of economic help to try to influence it.

But nuclear talks between the US and North Korea have stalled since 2019, when then-US President Donald Trump’s administration rejected the North’s demand for major sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling an ageing nuclear facility. 

North Korea leader Kim Jong Un’s government has so far rejected US President Joe Biden administration’s overtures for dialogue, demanding that Washington abandon what it calls “hostile” policies first. 

But the North has maintained its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests, a sign that it may not want to completely scuttle the possibility of reopening the talks.

In 2017, North Korea claimed to have acquired the ability to strike the American mainland with nuclear weapons after conducting three intercontinental ballistic missile tests and its most powerful nuclear test.

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In recent years, it’s also performed a series of underwater-launched missile tests in what experts say is a worrying development because such weapons are difficult to detect in advance and would provide the North with a second, retaliatory strike capability. 

South Korea, which doesn’t have nuclear weapons, is under the protection of the US “nuclear umbrella,” which guarantees a devastating American response in the event of an attack on its ally. 

But South Korea has been accelerating efforts to build up its conventional arms, including developing more powerful missiles. 

Experts say the South’s military advancements are aimed at improving its capacity for preemptive strikes and destroying key North Korean facilities and bunkers. 

Separate from the submarine-launched missile, South Korea also tested a missile from an aircraft that is in development.

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