North and South Korea have fired several missiles in one another’s direction in recent days.
All the missiles have so far landed in the ocean, but one came very close to the South Korean coastline. A North Korean missile this morning triggered a shelter warning in Japan.
Missile tests are common in this part of the world, but this is a major escalation. What’s happening?
North and South Korea were separated at the end of World War II, following Japan ceding control of the country as part of its surrender to the Allies. South Korea (the Republic of Korea) is now a democracy with close ties to the U.S. and its allies.
North Korea (the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) is a communist dictatorship led by members of the Kim family, currently Kim Jong-Un. It has hostile relationships with many countries, including the U.S., and is largely shut off from the world. Human Rights Watch says Kim maintains “fearful obedience” through executions and prison camps, and there are frequent reports of widespread hunger.
The United Nations Security Council bans North Korea from having missiles and nuclear weapons. However, it is known to have non-nuclear missiles and claims to have developed nuclear weapons.
North Korea often tests its missiles or threatens to use them, but South Korean politicians are divided on the best response. Earlier this year, South Korea elected as President the conservative Yoon Suk-yeol, who advocated a tough stance. His opponent, Lee Jae-myung, had called for diplomacy and reconciliation.
Last month, North Korea fired a missile over Japan, which landed in the ocean. It was the first time this had happened in several years, and South Korea’s new President condemned it as “reckless”.
In recent weeks, tensions have escalated. Earlier this week, North Korea launched 23 missiles in a day – the most it had ever launched – one landing close to the South Korean coastline. South Korea responded with three missiles of its own, and North Korea has subsequently fired even more missiles.
Warning in Japan
Today, one North Korean missile triggered a shelter alert in Japan’s Miyagi, Yamagata, and Niigata prefectures. The missile that triggered the alert did not fly over Japan.
North Korea claims the missiles are a response to aggressive U.S. and South Korean military exercises. The U.S. has called North Korea’s actions “reckless”. In a joint statement, U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken and South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin accused North Korea of escalating the conflict.