North Korea confirmed Monday its second missile test in recent days, with leader Kim Jong-Un overseeing the drill ahead of a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to South Korea.
The South Korean military said Sunday’s test was of two short-range Scud missiles with a range of about 500 kilometers (300 miles).
A dispatch by the North’s official KCNA news agency was unclear about the type of missile, mentioning, “tactical rockets” and “precision-guided missiles”.
A few days earlier, a similar dispatch had hailed the test of a new “cutting-edge” guided missile as a “breakthrough” in the North’s military capability.
Pyongyang has in the past made extravagant claims about its ballistic missile capability, and experts are divided as to how far the country has gone in developing its missile systems under UN sanctions.
North Korea carries out regular missile tests, sometimes for technical reasons but often as a show of force to register its displeasure with events elsewhere.
The two latest tests come ahead of Xi’s July 3-4 trip to Seoul for talks with South Korean President Park Geun-Hye.
China is North Korea’s sole major ally and key economic benefactor, and the fact that Xi is visiting Seoul before Pyongyang has been seen by some as a deliberate snub.
For all its leverage, China has grown increasingly frustrated with North Korea’s refusal to curb its nuclear weapons programme as well its penchant for raising regional tension.
According to KCNA, Kim argued that the missile tests “had not the slightest impact” on regional peace and security, and were in fact a guarantor of regional stability.
“Durable peace can be protected only when one is so strong that nobody dares provoke one and it can be guaranteed by one’s own strength,” said Kim, who personally oversaw both the latest tests.
With Xi and Park expected to discuss Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons, the North’s state-run newspaper lashed out at efforts to curb its nuclear ambition as a “stupid fantasy.”
The ruling party’s official Rodong Sinmun reiterated Monday that the atomic weapons were means of self-defense against perceived threats from the US and the South.
“It’s about time for the enemies to wake up from the stupid fantasy called ‘denuclearization of the North,” it said in an editorial.
“‘Denuclearization of the North’ is a wild dream that can never be achieved forever,” it added.
Tensions between North and South Korea have been running high for months, with each accusing the other of provocations.
Most recently, the North’s army threatened a “devastating strike” after the South held a live-fire drill near the flashpoint maritime border in the Yellow Sea.
In March, the two sides traded hundreds of shells across the border off the west coast after the North dropped shells in the South’s waters during a live-fire drill.
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North Korea on Thursday fired shells into waters near a South Korean warship on patrol south of the disputed Yellow Sea border, prompting an evacuation of residents on a nearby island, officials said.
Two shells fell near the South Korean ship, which was sailing near the frontline island of Yeonpyeong, the South’s defence ministry said.
Residents on the island were advised to move to civilian shelters and nearby fishing boats were told to return to port.
North Korea shelled Yeonpyeong in November 2010, killing four South Koreans, briefly triggering concerns of a full-scale conflict.
“North Korea fired shells which fell near our ship, but it did not cause any damage to our ship,” a ministry spokesman told AFP.
The North’s move prompted a response from the South Korean vessel which fired several rounds into waters near a North Korean vessel, he said.
The exchange of fire sparked a tense confrontation between warships from the two sides, but there was no additional provocation from North Korea, the spokesman said.
“The situation is now stable but we are closely watching the movement of North Korean troops,” another ministry official said.
There were no reports of casualties or damage on the island from authorities, the Yonhap news agency said.
The incident came ahead of a Friday visit to Seoul by the European Union’s foreign affairs chief Catherine Ashton, and the EU confirmed that talks would include “security cooperation, non-proliferation and recent developments in our respective neighbourhoods including the DPRK (North Korea).”
Ashton will meet President Park Geun-hye and Foreign Minister Yun Byung-se in the South Korean capital.
The North’s military had threatened Wednesday to attack South Korean warships “without any warning” if there was even a “trifle” violation of the maritime border, after a South Korean naval ship fired warning shots to stop an incursion by three North Korean patrol boats across the sea.
The South’s navy urged the North to stop “absurd threats” and warned: “We will mercilessly punish any provocative actions by North Korea.”
The North does not recognise the Yellow Sea border, the scene of brief but bloody naval clashes in 1999, 2002 and 2009.
In March the North fired hundreds of shells in a live exercise near the sea boundary. About 100 shells dropped into South Korean territorial waters, and the South responded with volleys of shells into North Korean waters.
Cross-border tension has been high for months, amid signs that the North may be preparing to conduct a fourth nuclear test.
This month the two Koreas have upped the ante in their verbal exchanges over crashed surveillance drones recovered on the South Korean side of the border.
Seoul said a joint investigation with US analysts had provided “smoking gun” evidence that the drones came from the North. Pyongyang flatly denied any involvement.
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