Nuclear-armed North Korea yesterday test-fired a ballistic missile farther than ever before, sending it soaring over Japan for the first time in five years and prompting a warning for residents there to take cover. It was the first North Korean missile to follow such a trajectory since 2017, and its estimated 4,600km range was the longest travelled by a North Korean test missile, which are usually “lofted” high into space to avoid flying over neighbouring countries. In response to the test, US and South Korean warplanes practised bombing a target in the Yellow Sea and fighter jets from the US and Japan also carried out joint drills over the Sea of Japan, the US military said. Japan warned its citizens to take cover and suspended some train services when the missile passed over its north before falling into the Pacific Ocean. It was the latest in an escalating cycle of muscle flexing in the region. A US aircraft carrier made a port call in South Korea for the first time since 2018 on September 23, and North Korea has conducted five launches in the last 10 days. The period has also seen joint drills by the US, South Korea and Japan, and a visit to the region by US Vice President Kamala Harris, who stood at the fortified border between the Koreas and accused the North of undermining security. North Korea accuses the US and its allies of threatening it with exercises and defence build-ups. Recent tests have drawn relatively muted responses from Washington, which is focused on the war in Ukraine as well as other domestic and foreign crises. But the US military has stepped up displays of force in the region and the White House National Security Council called the latest test “dangerous and reckless.” In the US and South Korean response to the North’s test yesterday, a South Korean air force F-15K jet dropped a pair of guided bombs on a target off its west coast, in what South Korea’s military called a demonstration of precision strike capability against the source of North Korean provocations. Japan said it took no steps to shoot the missile down but Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said it would not rule out any options, including counterattack capabilities, as it looks to strengthen its defences in the face of repeated missile launches from North Korea. South Korea also said it would boost its military and increase allied co-operation. US National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson called the North Korean test “destabilising” and said it showed North Korea’s “blatant disregard for United Nations Security Council resolutions and international safety norms.”
Thousands of Koreans were evacuated as Typhoon Hinnamur made landfall in the south of the country, expecting heavy rain and strong winds to continue throughout the day, the authorities in South Korea announced on Tuesday. Super Typhoon Hinnamnor made landfall on South Korea's Geoje early Tuesday morning, possibly becoming the most powerful storm ever to hit the country. The strength of the typhoon when it hit Geoje was not immediately available, but the Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA) said the typhoon was classified "very strong" when it passed through the southern island of Jeju at around midnight with an atmospheric pressure of 945 hectopascals (hPa) at its center and maximum wind speed of 45 kilometers per second. "Hinnamnor is a very big typhoon with a radius of 400 kilometers, and can carry strong winds and heavy rainfall almost all across the country," Han Sang-un, the chief forecaster at the KMA, told a press briefing, urging to minimize possible casualties. After brushing past Jeju, Typhoon Hinnamnor was forecast to pass 180 kilometers southwest of the southern port city of Busan, with an atmospheric pressure of 945hPa at its center, the KMA said earlier. A heavy rain warning was issued earlier for all parts of the country, but the warning has been lifted in areas including the western port city of Incheon after the typhoon moved past Jeju and continued to move eastward. Almost all schools in Jeju were closed. Nationwide, 62 elementary, middle and high schools temporarily closed down, 548 schools switched to online learning. A series of ferry services and flights were canceled across the country. Across the country, a total of 361 domestic flights had been cancelled as of Monday afternoon. (QNA)
A woman who is believed to be related to two children whose remains were found in suitcases in New Zealand is in South Korea, Seoul police told AFP Monday. Last week, New Zealand police said they had discovered the remains of two children, who are thought to have been between five and 10 years old when they died, in suitcases. The bodies were discovered after an unsuspecting family bought a trailer-load of items -- including the suitcases -- at an auction for abandoned goods. New Zealand police have said the bodies were likely to have been in storage for several years, which has complicated the investigation into the crime. Police said Monday that a woman of Korean descent, who is believed to be related to the children, is currently in South Korea. "We confirm that she is in South Korea, and that she is a New Zealand national of Korean descent," an official at the Korean National Police Agency told AFP. She arrived in the South in 2018 and had no record of leaving the country since that year, he added. "New Zealand police are leading this investigation and we intend to cooperate at their request," the official added. Police have been checking hours of CCTV footage, but key moments could have already been erased due to the delay between when the victims died and the discovery of the bodies. Both the storage unit and property where the suitcases were taken have been thoroughly examined by forensic experts. Authorities in New Zealand reiterated last week that the family who found the bodies were not connected to the homicide. They are receiving support to help deal with the trauma, the country's Detective Inspector Tofilau Faamanuia Vaaelua said at the time.
South Korea and the United States began their largest joint military drills in years on Monday with a resumption of field training, officials said, as the allies seek to tighten readiness over North Korea's potential weapons tests. The annual summertime exercises, renamed Ulchi Freedom Shield this year and scheduled to end on Sept. 1, came after South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, vowed to "normalise" the combined exercises and boost deterrence against the North. South Korea separately launched the four-day Ulchi civil defence drills on Monday, designed to boost government readiness, for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic emerged. The military and civil exercises are aimed at improving the country's preparedness to match the changing patterns of war, with evolving cyber threats against key facilities such as chip factories and supply chains, Yoon said. "Maintaining peace on the Korean peninsula is built on our airtight security posture," Yoon told a cabinet meeting, calling for thorough exercises based on real-world scenarios. The drills were the largest since 2017 after being scaled back because of COVID-19 and as Yoon's predecessor sought to restart talks with Pyongyang, which has called the exercises a rehearsal for invasion. North Korea fired two cruise missiles from the west coast last week, after South Korea and the United States kicked off preliminary training for the exercises. North Korea has conducted missile tests at an unprecedented pace this year and is ready to conduct its seventh nuclear test at any time, Seoul officials said. Yoon has said his government is willing to provide economic aid if Pyongyang takes steps toward denuclearisation, but North Korea has rebuffed his offer, openly criticising him. Seoul's defence ministry has said the allies would stage 11 field training programmes, including one at brigade-level - involving thousands of soldiers - this summer. To better counter North Korea's growing missile threats targeting the South's capital, the ministry said it would improve missile detection capabilities and push for an early deployment of a new interceptor system. The United States, South Korea and Japan participated in a recent ballistic missile defence exercise off Hawaii's coast, the first such drills since 2017, when relations between Seoul and Tokyo hit their lowest point in years.
At least eight people died in and around Seoul overnight, South Korean authorities said yesterday, after torrential rain knocked out power, caused landslides and left roads and subways submerged. The southern part of the national capital received more than 100mm of rain per hour on late Monday, with some parts of the city hit with 141.5mm, the heaviest rainfall in decades, according to Korea Meteorological Administration (KMA). The accumulated rainfall in Seoul since midnight Monday stood at 451mm as of 2pm yesterday, with more forecast. President Yoon Suk-yeol yesterday visited a semi-basement apartment where three family members had died the night before after swift moving flood waters filled the space. The dangers of such underground flats, called banjiha, were famously depicted in a flooding scene in the 2020 Oscar-winning film “Parasite.” Yoon told the area’s residents he would try to ensure their lives returned to normal as quickly as possible, and he instructed officials to look at measures to better ensure housing safety, according to a statement from his office. At least five people had died in Seoul and three others in the neighbouring Gyeonggi Province by early yesterday, the central disaster and safety countermeasures headquarters said. Four, including the three family members, had died after being drowned in flooded buildings, one was believed to have been electrocuted, another person was found under the wreckage of a bus stop, and the others two died in a landslide, it said. At least nine people were injured, while seven were missing. In the glitzy, dense Gangnam district, some buildings and stores were flooded and were without power, while cars, buses and subway stations were submerged, leaving people stranded. Lim Na-kyung, a 31-year-old office worker, recounted her fears of Monday evening, saying the situation reminded her of a scene from the 1997 film “Titanic”. “I had to keep going higher and higher because the building was submerging at a fast pace...I couldn’t believe that I was trapped in building with 40 other people in the middle of Gangnam district,” said the mother-of-two, who eventually had to spend the night at a Pilates centre on the fourth floor. Data showed at least 765 facilities had been damaged. About 52 highways and roads have been blocked. About 391 people were displaced in the greater Seoul area, most of whom had to stay at local schools and gyms.
K-pop sensations BTS may be allowed to continue performing and preparing for international concerts even while they undertake their mandatory military service in South Korea, the defence minister said Monday. All South Korean able-bodied young men under the age of 30 must perform around two years of military service, mainly due to the fact that the country remains technically at war with nuclear-armed North Korea. The spectre of conscription has long hovered over BTS, with its seven male stars ranging in age from 24-year-old Jungkook to Jin, 29, who must sign up by next year or risk jail time. Defence Minister Lee Jong-sup said during a parliament session that it could be in the national interest to find a way to keep the global stars on stage during their time in South Korea's military. "I think there will be a way to give them time to practice in the military and to allow them to perform together if there is an overseas performance scheduled," he said. "Since many people value the fact of serving in the military itself very highly, it could be more helpful for their popularity," he added, responding to a lawmaker's question on the topic. South Korea grants exemptions from military service to some elite athletes, such as Olympic medallists, and classical musicians -- but pop stars do not qualify. The lack of exemptions for BTS, who are credited with generating billions of dollars for the South Korean economy, has sparked fierce debate in the past. Who does -- and does not -- undertake military service is a highly-charged issue in South Korea. Refusing to serve is a crime, and can lead to imprisonment and social stigma, but even so some South Koreans go to extreme measures -- trying to gain weight or having unnecessary surgery, for example -- to evade service, AFP has reported. BTS have not shown any signs of trying to evade the draft. "As a South Korean young man, I believe military service is a natural course. And as I have always said, I will answer the country's call whenever it comes," Jin said in 2020. The group had already benefited from a 2020 revision to South Korea's conscription law, which moved the age limit for some entertainers to sign up from 28 to 30 years old. A majority of South Koreans -- 59 percent -- favour expanding military service exemptions, but there is staunch opposition from young men who have already done it, local reports say.
When South Korean rapper Psy released Gangnam Style a decade ago, few anticipated the scale and speed of its success, and how it would help usher in the streaming revolution. Its madcap music video with the now-trademark horse-riding dance was released on July 15, 2012. It focused on the local, poking fun at Seoul’s wealthy Gangnam district — but within weeks it went global. By December that year, it had reached 1bn views on YouTube. It birthed countless memes and parodies, with the giddy-up dance performed by flash mobs from Azerbaijan to New Zealand. And Gangnam Style showed the music industry what could be achieved through Internet platforms and social media, especially by artists outside the West who did not perform in English. Psy “broke the rules of the game. The traditional marketing and promotional playbooks were essentially thrown out the window,” said Bernie Cho, president of the Seoul-based DFSB Kollective artist and label services agency and an expert on the South Korean music industry. It showed “the importance, the impact, the influence of YouTube on pop music and pop culture worldwide”. In 2012, the streaming industry was still in its infancy, providing less than seven percent of global music revenues, according to industry group IFPI. But the stunning success of Gangnam Style— as well as viral videos from performers such as Justin Bieber and Carly Rae Jepsen — showed a new way for acts from anywhere in the world to not only release music but also tap into online ad revenue, find sponsors and get booked for concerts, analysts say. A decade later, streaming is the main source of revenue in the global music industry — 65% in 2021, IFPI reported — with content available online via subscription-based services, YouTube, and short-form video apps such as TikTok. Gangnam Style is “an example of the power that a platform like YouTube could have to create interest in a particular video from a lot of different places in the world,” said Michelle Cho, an assistant professor at the University of Toronto who studies Korean pop culture. “The significance of the video...goes far beyond the content of the video. And it really has more to do with the way that it enabled people to imagine the possibilities of the platform.” Within months of its release, Gangnam Style was the most-viewed video on YouTube. It held that spot for more than three years. As of July 12 this year, it had close to 4.5bn views. Such was the online buzz for Gangnam Style and viral phenomena such as “Harlem Shake” that Billboard in 2013 changed how it compiles charts, adding streams on YouTube and other platforms to then-mainstream metrics such as radio and sales. “My one good job, helping K-pop, was changing the rules of Billboard,” Psy said during an interview in May, pointing to the popularity of Korean acts on YouTube. Gangnam Style shook South Korea too, becoming the country’s biggest cultural export and a source of national pride overnight. K-pop acts had tried to break into international markets before 2012 with some regional success in Asia, but they had failed to make a mark in huge and lucrative Western markets such as the United States. And then came Psy, who did not fit the profile of polished K-pop idols. “Industry executives, government officials, pundits, critics, fans...just assumed that the breakout star from Korea would likely be either a boy band or a girl band,” said DFSB’s Bernie Cho. Psy “proved to everybody that instead of a Korean version of a Western pop star or an international pop star, what the world wanted was something very authentic, original, unique.” The horse-riding dance was everywhere — performed on prime-time TV in the United States, in an English football stadium, and by Bollywood stars in India. Then-US President Barack Obama said his daughters had taught him “a pretty good Gangnam Style”. South Korea is a global entertainment powerhouse today, but in 2012, Gangnam Style was the first encounter with Korean pop culture for many audiences. “It was really influential in perhaps making Korea or Korean music or Korean media more of a common element of general knowledge in lots of places...certainly in the US, but also globally,” said scholar Michelle Cho. “That knowledge, that...familiarity definitely helps other content gain a foothold.”
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un ordered a strengthening of the country’s defence capabilities as he wrapped up a key meeting with top military officials, state media said yesterday, raising concerns about its possible addition of tactical nuclear weapons. The meeting has been closely watched due to growing speculation that Pyongyang could conduct its first nuclear test in five years, which US and South Korean officials have said could take place at “any time” now. Kim presided over the three-day Enlarged Meeting of the 8th Central Military Commission where top officials “approved an important issue of providing a military guarantee for further strengthening the country’s war deterrent,” official KCNA media said. During the meeting, North Korea made a rare mention of revising its war plans, and said it had decided to bolster the operational duties of its frontline units with “an important military action plan.” KCNA did not elaborate on the plan, which apparently targets South Korea, analysts said. “North Korea could have added the possible use of tactical nuclear weapons in its new operation plans given the use of the term war deterrent which it uses to refer to nuclear capabilities,” Hong Min, a senior fellow at the Korea Institute for National Unification in Seoul, said. KCNA on Thursday released a photo of the North’s top officials in a meeting with a map of what appeared to be the east coast of the Korean Peninsula, where South Korea’s nuclear power plants are located. Asked about North Korea’s meeting, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said Seoul was preparing a “firm response” on the North’s activities. The KCNA report did not directly mention North Korea’s nuclear or ballistic missile programme, but it said Ri Pyong Chol, who has been leading the North’s missile development, was elected as vice-chairman of the Party Central Military Commission. “Given Ri’s symbolic position in the North’s nuclear advancement process, the election demonstrates its will to accelerate the development of strategic and tactical weapons,” the Korea Institute’s Hong said. An official at Seoul’s unification ministry handling inter-Korean affairs said Pyongyang appeared to have intentionally disclosed the photo, and is likely to step up threats against the South down the road.
North Korea said Friday that hundreds of families have fallen ill with an unidentified intestinal disease, heaping pressure on a crumbling healthcare system already strained by Covid-19. Pyongyang announced its first coronavirus cases last month and activated a "maximum emergency epidemic prevention system", with leader Kim Jong Un putting himself front and centre of the government's response. Even so, the virus tore through the unvaccinated population of 25 million, with more than 4.5 million cases of "fever" and 73 deaths to date, according to figures published by state media. Building on the country's woes, the official KCNA this week announced a new "acute enteric epidemic" in South Hwanghae province, with Kim urging officials to "contain the epidemic at the earliest date possible". In a possible sign of the seriousness of the situation, Kim Yo Jong, Kim Jong Un's powerful sister, was one of a group of senior officials who reportedly personally donated medicine to try and help. The medicine will be delivered to "over 800 families suffering from the acute epidemic which broke out in some areas of South Hwanghae Province," state media KCNA reported Friday. The figure suggests at least 1,600 people have been infected with the enteric disease. The reports have sparked speculation that the unspecified disease may be cholera or typhoid. If confirmed the outbreak could worsen the country's chronic food shortages, as South Hwanghae province is one of the North's main agricultural regions. Experts have warned of a major public health emergency in the North, which has one of the world's worst medical care systems, should Covid spread. The impoverished country has poorly equipped hospitals, few intensive care units and no Covid treatment drugs or mass testing capability. "With the North's much outdated medical infrastructure, an acute intestinal sickness could flare at any time," an official from Seoul's unification ministry said, according to Yonhap news agency. Seoul is willing to assist the North in handling the new outbreak should Pyongyang wish to accept it, the official said. South Korea previously offered to send vaccines and other medical aid to the North to help it deal with its coronavirus outbreak. Pyongyang has not officially responded.
* Four rounds of talks yield no compromise * Cargoes of petrochemical materials still blocked * Shipments of soju liquor down to 60% of normal A week-long strike by truck drivers in South Korea has disrupted shipments to China of a key cleaning agent used by makers of semiconductor chips, the Korean International Trade Association (KITA) said on Tuesday. It was the first sign that the strike was affecting the global supply chain of chip production, having already cost South Korean industry more than $1.2 billion in lost output and unfilled deliveries. KITA said a Korean company that produces isopropyl alcohol (IPA), a chemical used in the cleaning of chip wafers, faces difficulties in shipping to a Chinese company that in turn supplies wafers to chipmakers. About 90 tonnes of the material, or a week's worth of shipments, have been delayed, the trade body said in a statement. It corrected an earlier statement that production had been disrupted, and clarified that the Chinese firm does not supply wafers to Samsung Electronics Co Ltd's chip production operations in China. Also facing problems because of the strike are IPA shipments by a major South Korean petrochemical company from its plant in the port city of Yeosu. Only an "essential amount" is being let through, said a person familiar with the matter, who sought anonymity and declined to identify the company because of the sensitivity of the matter. The company's output of IPA is used as an industrial cleaning agent in semiconductors and liquid crystal displays (LCD) among other applications, it said in its website. The truckers' union, which is protesting against soaring fuel prices and demanding guarantees of minimum pay, vowed to continue the strike after four rounds of talks with the government have failed to find a resolution. In a statement on Tuesday, it also condemned the transport ministry for being "neither willing to talk nor capable of resolving the current situation". Analysts expect the strike impact on domestic chipmakers to be limited, however, saying that both Samsung and world's second largest memory chip maker, SK Hynix, usually keep on hand three months or more of inventory for materials. "Both drastically increased inventory since Japan's export curbs on chip material in 2019 highlighted the issue," said Ahn Ki-hyun, senior executive director of the Korea Semiconductor Industry Association. Small business owners voiced concern about the havoc a lengthy strike could deal to recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic, as the truckers had launched their action less than two months after social distancing norms were lifted. "Small business owners are waiting helplessly," a dozen lobby groups for small business said in a joint statement, adding that shipments of liquor, food, farm and fisheries products had been blocked. An official at HiteJinro Co Ltd, the biggest brewer of soju, the South Korean liquor, said its shipments were cut about 40% by the strike. Large retailers were sending their own trucks to ensure inventory, but supplies were drying up for some small businesses, such as convenience stores, the official added.
* N.Korea missile tests described as 'serious, unlawful' * US, S.Korea, Japan to up trilateral defence cooperation * Experts and officials say North ready for nuclear test * Pyongyang urged to accept aid as Covid-19 spreads North Korea's recent missile tests were "serious, unlawful" provocations, senior officials from South Korea, the United States and Japan said on Wednesday, urging Pyongyang to return to dialogue and accept offers of Covid-19 aid. South Korea Vice Foreign Minister Cho Hyun-dong, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman and Japanese Vice Foreign Minister Takeo Mori made the comments as they gathered in Seoul, three days after North Korea conducted the latest in a series of missile tests. The three-way meeting of the countries' No. 2 diplomats, the first such gathering since November and the first since South Korea's President Yoon Suk-yeol took office in May, highlighted the urgency and gravity of North Korea's intensifying weapons tests. Mori's visit also marked such trip by the Japanese vice foreign minister since late 2017 amid strained bilateral ties over issues including Japan's occupation of the Korean peninsula and war-time labour. Seoul and Washington officials have said North Korea is ready for what would be its first nuclear test since 2017, which Sherman has said would trigger a strong and clear response. The trio urged Pyongyang to abide by international sanctions and immediately cease actions that "escalate tensions or destabilise the region," a joint statement said. They also pledged to ramp up trilateral security cooperation to curb the North's threats, with Sherman reaffirming the US defence commitments, including extended deterrence. "They stressed that a path to serious and sustained dialogue remains open and urged the DPRK to return to negotiations, while also expressing their hope that the DPRK will respond positively to international offers of assistance to fight against Covid-19," the statement said, referring to North Korea by its the initials of its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. North Korea has carried out at least 18 rounds of weapons tests this year, underscoring its evolving nuclear and missile arsenals. In its latest test, North Korea fired eight short-range ballistic missiles, likely its largest single launch, a day after South Korea and the United States ended joint military drills involving an American aircraft carrier. The allies launched eight surface-to-surface missiles on Monday in their own show of force responding to the North's test. South Korea's President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, and US President Joe Biden vowed at their recent summit to deploy more US strategic military assets as part of efforts to bolster the extended deterrence. North Korea has been grappling with its first confirmed coronavirus outbreak since last month. It has reported more than 4.2 million patients with fever symptoms among its 25 million population, but never confirmed how many tested positive for the virus, lacking in test kits and medical supplies. Seoul and Washington said they had respectively offered Covid aid but Pyongyang did not respond, even as the World Health Organization warned of a worsening Covid-19 situation there. "The United States remains prepared to meet the DPRK without preconditions and we iterate again, we have no possible intent toward the DPRK," Sherman told a joint news conference. Seoul officials have said Pyongyang has conducted multiple experiments with a detonation device in preparation for its seventh underground nuclear explosion. The nuclear test could come as early as next week ahead of a planned plenary meeting of the ruling Workers' Party's powerful central committee, some analysts said. "The meeting is primarily designed to review economy and other policy issues, but it could also touch on nuclear policy," said Cheong Seong-chang, director of South Korea's Sejong Institute's North Korea studies centre, referring to previous meetings held shortly after nuclear tests in 2013 and 2017.
South Korea and the United States flew warplanes including stealth fighter jets over waters around the Korean peninsula Tuesday in a fresh show of force following recent missile tests by the North, Seoul said. Sixteen South Korean warplanes, including F-35 stealth fighters and four US F-16 jets, formed an attack squadron over the West Sea -- also known as the Yellow Sea -- to "respond to the enemy threat," Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. The allies "demonstrated their strong ability and will to strike quickly and accurately against any provocation from North Korea," it added. The air manoeuvres, which involved some 20 warplanes, come a day after the allies fired eight ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan in the wake of Pyongyang's Sunday weapons tests. On Sunday, North Korea fired eight short range ballistic missiles from four different locations in the space of 30 minutes -- one of its largest-ever tests, analysts said. The nuclear-armed country has carried out a blitz of sanctions-busting weapons tests this year, including firing an intercontinental ballistic missile at full range for the first time since 2017. US and South Korean officials have been warning for weeks that Kim Jong Un's regime is preparing to carry out a fresh nuclear test. US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman, in Seoul on a three-day visit, warned there would be a "swift and forceful" response were Pyongyang to go ahead with what would be its seventh such test. "Any nuclear test would be in complete violation of UN Security Council resolutions," she told reporters after meeting with her South Korean counterpart. The entire world will respond in a "strong and clear manner," she said, adding: "We are prepared." Sherman said the United States was still willing to engage in dialogue with the North, saying that Washington "harbours no hostile intent towards" Pyongyang. Tuesday's air manoeuvres are the third such joint show of force by the allies under South Korea's hawkish new President Yoon Suk-yeol, who has vowed a tougher stance against Pyongyang.
South Korea and the United States fired eight ballistic missiles on Monday in response to North Korean weapons tests the previous day, Seoul's military said. The Joint Chiefs of Staff said the allies launched the ground-to-ground Army Tactical Missile System (ATACMS) missile at targets in the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, in the early morning. The 10-minute volley comes a day after North Korea launched eight short-range ballistic missiles following a South Korea-US joint military exercise involving a US aircraft carrier. "Our military strongly condemns the North's series of ballistic missile provocations and sternly urges it to immediately stop acts that raise military tensions on the peninsula," it added. Monday's launches mark the second such joint show of force by the allies under South Korea's hawkish new President Yoon Suk-yeol, who has vowed a tougher stance against Pyongyang. "Our government will respond decisively and sternly to any provocations from North Korea," Yoon said Monday during a speech commemorating Memorial Day. Last month, Seoul and Washington carried out combined launches after Pyongyang fired three ballistic missiles -- including a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile -- in their first such joint move since 2017. Pyongyang has doubled down on upgrading its weapons programme, despite facing crippling economic sanctions, with officials and analysts warning that the regime is preparing to carry out a fresh nuclear test. The regime has carried out a blitz of sanctions-busting weapons tests this year, including firing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) at full range.
North Korea fired eight short-range ballistic missiles towards the sea off its east coast on Sunday, likely its largest single test, a day after South Korea and the United States ended joint military drills. The bilateral exercises involved an American aircraft carrier for the first time in more than four years. South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said that at least eight missiles were fired from the Sunan area of the North Korean capital Pyongyang and they flow between 110 km-600 km at altitudes between 25 km to 90 km. In response, South Korea President Yoon Suk-yeol convened a National Security Council meeting and ordered "expanded deterrence of South Korea and the United States and continued reinforcement of united defence posture". The NSC meeting conclued that the missile launch was North Korea's "test and challenge" of the security readiness of South Korea's new administration, which took office last month, the president's office said in a news release. South Korea's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Kim Gunn, its Special Representative for Korean Peninsula Peace and Security Affairs, discussed the provocation with U.S. Special Representative Sung Kim, the U.S. point man on North Korean affairs. Kim Gunn also held a telephone conference with his Japanese counterpart Funakoshi Takehiro. Japanese Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi said the North had launched multiple missiles, and that the act "cannot be tolerated." He said at a briefing that at least one missile had a variable trajectory, which indicates it could manoeuvre to evade missile defences. The US Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that North Korea's multiple ballistic missile launches highlighted the destabilising impact of its illicit weapons program but that the event didn't pose an immediate threat. Michael Duitsman, with the US-based James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies (CNS), said it appeared to be the largest single test ever by North Korea. A large number of missiles also suggests a military drill or show of force, rather than a test of new technology. The launch also followed a visit to Seoul by Sung Kim, who departed on Saturday. He met his South Korean and Japanese counterparts on Friday to prepare for "all contingencies" amid signs North Korea was preparing to conduct a nuclear test for the first time since 2017. Washington has made very clear directly to Pyongyang that it is open to diplomacy, Kim said during the visit, noting that he was willing to discuss items of interest to Pyongyang, such as sanctions relief. Last week, the United States called for more UN sanctions on North Korea over its ballistic missile launches, but China and Russia vetoed the suggestion, publicly splitting the U.N. Security Council on North Korea for the first time since it started punishing it in 2006, when North Korea conducted its first nuclear test. In recent weeks, North Korea has test-fired a range of missiles, including its largest intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM). North Korea's last tests were on May 25, when it launched three missiles after U.S. President Joe Biden ended an Asia trip where he agreed to new measures to deter the nuclear-armed state. The first missile appeared to be the North's largest ICBM, the Hwasong-17, while a second unspecified missile appeared to have failed mid-flight, South Korean officials said at the time. The third missile was a short-range ballistic missile (SRBM). On Saturday, South Korean and American ships concluded three days of drills in international waters off the Japanese island of Okinawa, including air defence, anti-ship, anti-submarine, and maritime interdiction operations, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said. It has said the exercises "consolidated the two countries' determination to sternly respond to any North Korean provocations". The exercises included the USS Ronald Reagan, a 100,000-ton nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, among other major warships. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office on May 10, had agreed with Biden to increase bilateral military drills to deter North Korea. North Korea has criticized previous joint drills as an example of Washington's continued "hostile policies" toward Pyongyang, despite its talk of diplomacy.
South Korea and the United States staged their first combined military exercises involving an American aircraft carrier in more than four years, Seoul’s military said yesterday, amid reports that North Korea was preparing for a nuclear test. The three-day drills took place in international waters off the Japanese island of Okinawa until Saturday, including air defence, anti-ship, anti-submarine, and maritime interdiction operations, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said. The exercises came amid signs that North Korea is gearing up to conduct a nuclear test for the first time since 2017. Seoul officials have said Pyongyang has conducted multiple experiments with a detonation device in preparation for its seventh underground explosion. The USS Ronald Reagan, a 100,000-tonne nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, joined the drills, alongside the guided-missile cruiser USS Antietam, the Aegis-equipped USS Benfold destroyer, and the Fleet replenishment oiler USNS Big Horn, the JCS said. South Korea also sent the 14,500-tonne Marado amphibious landing ship, the 7,600-tonne Sejong the Great destroyer, and the 4,400-tonne Munmu the Great destroyer, among others. It was the allies’ first joint military exercise since South Korea’s President Yoon Suk-yeol took office last month, and their first bilateral exercises involving an aircraft carrier since November 2017. “The exercise consolidated the two countries’ determination to sternly respond to any North Korean provocations, while demonstrating the US commitment to provide extended deterrence,” the JCS said in a statement. At a recent summit with Yoon, US President Joe Biden promised to deploy “strategic assets” - which typically include aircraft carriers, long-range bomber aircraft or missile submarines - if necessary to deter North Korea as part of efforts to bolster the extended deterrence. On Friday, nuclear envoys from the United States, South Korea and Japan met in Seoul to brace for “all contingencies.” The USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier, led US military exercises in the Yellow Sea in March, after North Korea conducted a full test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time since 2017. The USS Abraham Lincoln strike group also operated in waters off the Korean peninsula in April. During the last major flurry of North Korea’s ICBM and nuclear tests in 2017, carriers USS Ronald Reagan, Theodore Roosevelt and Nimitz, and their multi-ship strike groups, deployed near the peninsula in a show of force. North Korea has long criticised the US-South Korea joint military drills as a rehearsal for war.
Officials from the United States, South Korea and Japan met in Seoul on Friday for talks on North Korea amid signs the isolated country is preparing to conduct a nuclear test for the first time since 2017. US Special Representative Sung Kim met his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, Kim Gunn and Funakoshi Takehiro, after a US assessment that the North was preparing its Punggye-ri test site for what would be its seventh nuclear test. "We are preparing for all contingencies in close coordination with our Japanese and ROK allies," Kim said at the beginning of the meeting, referring to South Korea by the initials of its official name, the Republic of Korea. This year, North Korea has tested several ballistic missiles, including one thought to be its largest intercontinental ballistic missile, in violation of UN sanctions. "We want to make clear to the DPRK that its unlawful and destabilising activities have consequences and that the international community will not accept these actions as normal," the US envoy said, referring to North Korea. South Korea's newly appointed nuclear envoy, Kim Gunn, said North Korea's "relentless pursuit of nuclear weapons will only end up strengthening our deterrence". "The course that Pyongyang is currently embarking on has only one inevitable destination: reduce security for North Korea itself," the South Korean diplomat said. Last week, the United States called for more UN sanctions on North Korea over its ballistic missile launches, but China and Russia vetoed the suggestion, publicly splitting the UN Security Council on North Korea for the first time since it started punishing it in 2006, when it conducted its first nuclear test. Japan's Funakoshi stressed the need for coordination, vowing to "enhance regional deterrence, including trilateral security cooperation". The officials said the door for dialogue was open and expressed concern over the Covid-19 situation in North Korea. Earlier, US Deputy Secretary of State Wendy Sherman said the United States would not link humanitarian aid for North Korea as it battles Covid to denuclearisation.
The World Health Organisation lamented it had no access to data about North Korea’s Covid-19 outbreak, but assumed the crisis was deepening, contrary to Pyongyang’s reports of “progress”. North Korea, which announced its first ever coronavirus cases on May 12, said last week its Covid outbreak had been brought under control, with state media reporting falling caseloads. But WHO emergencies director Michael Ryan questioned that claim. “We assume that situation is getting worse not better,” he told reporters, acknowledging though that the secretive totalitarian state had provided only very limited information. “Right now we are not in a position to make an adequate risk assessment of the situation on the ground,” he said, pointing out that “it is very, very difficult to provide a proper analysis to the world when we don’t have access to the necessary data.” Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s lead on Covid-19, meanwhile said the country had registered more than 3mn suspected Covid cases, although the official accounts only mention cases of “fever”. The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported early yesterday some 96,600 “fevered cases” in 24 hours, for a total of 3.8mn cases since late April. No new deaths were announced, with 69 fatalities as of late last week. It was the third consecutive daily tally of less than 100,000, down from a high of 390,000 daily cases in mid-May, South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported. Despite having one of the worst health systems in the world, KCNA yesterday reported that more than 95% of cases had recovered. “There are many recoveries that have been reported, but there’s limited information that we have from the country currently,” Van Kerkhove said. North Korea has also rejected jabs offered by the WHO and not vaccinated any of its roughly 25mn people. Ryan stressed the importance of reining in the outbreak in the impoverished country. “We have offered assistance on multiple occasions. We have offered vaccines on three separate occasions. We continue to offer,” he said. He said the UN health agency was working with China and South Korea in a bid to get aid in, hailing “a very positive attitude towards trying to deal with this collective problem.” The WHO has repeatedly cautioned against allowing the virus that causes Covid-19 to spread unchecked, among other things since it then is more likely to mutate and produce new, potentially more dangerous variants.
South Korea's exports rose 21.3 % in May from a year earlier on solid demand for chips and petroleum products, but the country suffered a trade deficit due to high global energy prices, data showed Wednesday. Outbound shipments stood at USD 61.52 billion last month, up from USD 50.73 billion a year earlier, according to the data compiled by the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy. It is the highest tally for any May since the ministry began compiling related data in 1956. The previous record was set a year earlier. It is also the second-largest ever monthly figure following the record number of USD 63.79 billion set in March 2022, the data showed. Imports jumped 32.0 percent on-year to USD 63.22 billion on soaring global energy prices, leading the country to post a trade deficit of USD 1.71 billion, the data showed.
President Joe Biden and his new South Korean counterpart agreed yesterday to hold bigger military drills and deploy more US weapons if necessary to deter North Korea, while offering to send Covid-19 vaccines and potentially meet Kim Jong-un. Biden and Yoon Suk-yeol said their countries’ decades-old alliance needed to develop not only to face North Korean threats but to keep the Indo-Pacific region “free and open” and protect global supply chains. The two leaders are meeting in Seoul for their first diplomatic engagement since the South Korean president’s inauguration 11 days ago. The encounter between allies was clouded by intelligence showing North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is prepared to conduct nuclear or missile tests. Yoon had sought more assurances that the United States would boost its deterrence against North Korean threats. In a joint statement, Biden reaffirmed the US commitment to defend South Korea with nuclear weapons if necessary. The two sides agreed to consider expanding their combined military drills, which had been scaled back in recent years over Covid-19 and efforts to lower tensions with the North. The United States also promised to deploy “strategic assets” - which typically include long-range bomber aircraft, missile submarines, or aircraft carriers - if necessary to deter North Korea, according to the statement. Both leaders said they were committed to denuclearising North Korea and were open to diplomacy with Pyongyang. “With regard to whether I would meet with the leader of North Korea, it would depend on whether he was sincere and whether he was serious,” Biden told a joint news conference. He said Washington had offered Covid-19 vaccines to China and North Korea, which is combating its first acknowledged outbreak. “We’ve got no response,” Biden said. North Korea reported more than 200,000 new patients suffering from fever for a fifth consecutive day on Saturday, but the country has little in the way of vaccines or modern treatment for the pandemic. The US-South Korea alliance, which dates to the 1950-1953 Korean War, must further develop to keep the Indo-Pacific “free and open”, Biden said. He said the alliance was built on opposition to changing borders by force - an apparent reference to Russia’s war in Ukraine and China’s claims over Taiwan. The joint statement called for preserving peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea. When asked by reporters about possible reactions from Beijing, Yoon’s national security advisor Kim Sung-han said those issues were directly linked with South Korea’s national interests, as its ships use the routes. “So I think there would be little room for Chinese retaliation or misunderstandings about this,” he said. Changes in international trade and supply chains gave new impetus for the United States and South Korea to deepen their relationship, Yoon said, calling for co-operation on electric batteries and semiconductors. Biden used the visit to tout investments in the United States by Korean companies, including a move by South Korea’s Hyundai Motor Group to invest about $5.5bn to build its first dedicated fully electric vehicle and battery manufacturing facilities in the United States. The two leaders toured a Samsung semiconductor plant on Friday, where Biden said countries like the United States and South Korea that “share values” needed to cooperate more to protect economic and national security. Yoon said the concept of economic security will include cooperating in case of shocks in the foreign exchange market. The South Korean president, keen to play a bigger role in regional issues, said his country would join Biden’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF), which will be announced during the trip to set standards on labour, the environment and supply chains. China is South Korea’s top trading partner, and Yoon’s aides emphasised that neither the joint statement or the IPEF explicitly excluded any country. While White House officials have sought to play down any explicit message of countering China, it is a theme of Biden’s trip and one that has caught the eye of Beijing. “We hope that the US will match its words with deeds and work with countries in the region to promote solidarity and cooperation in the Asia-Pacific, instead of plotting division and confrontation,” Chinese envoy for Korean affairs Liu Xiaoming, said on Twitter.
US President Joe Biden arrived in South Korea on Friday, the first leg of his first trip to Asia as President. Biden was greeted at the US air base at Osan by South Korean foreign minister Park Jin, and the commanding general of U.S. forces in Korea, Paul LaCamera, among other American and South Korean officials. Biden's due to meet with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol later Friday at a Samsung Electronics (005930.KS) plant, ahead of a full day of events on Saturday. The visit will be the first meeting between the two leaders. Yoon took office on May 10, and has vowed to deepen ties with Washington. The South Korean president hopes to gain assurances from Biden that the United States will strengthen its deterrence against North Korean threats, while expanding the decades-old alliance to tackle other issues. Biden, meanwhile, is expected to bring a theme of countering China's presence in the region. Biden was greeted at the U.S. air base at Osan by South Korean foreign minister Park Jin, and the commanding general of U.S. forces in Korea, Paul LaCamera, among other American and South Korean officials. Biden was due to meet with South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol later Friday at a Samsung Electronics (005930.KS) plant, ahead of a full day of events on Saturday. The visit will be the first meeting between the two leaders. Yoon took office on May 10, and has vowed to deepen ties with Washington. The South Korean president hopes to gain assurances from Biden that the United States will strengthen its deterrence against North Korean threats, while expanding the decades-old alliance to tackle other issues. Biden, meanwhile, is expected to bring a theme of countering China's presence in the region.