SEOUL/WASHINGTON • North Korea fired several short-range missiles into the sea off its east coast, South Korea and the US military said, as the two allies held annual joint military drills that the North denounces as preparation for war.
The US military's Pacific Command said it had detected three short-range ballistic missiles, fired over a 20-minute period early yesterday. One appeared to have blown up almost immediately, while two flew about 250km in a north-easterly direction, Pacific Command said, revising an earlier assessment that two of the missiles had failed in flight.
The test came just days after senior US officials praised North Korea and leader Kim Jong Un for showing restraint in not firing any missiles since late last month.
The South Korean Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said the projectiles were launched from eastern Kangwon province into the sea.
Later yesterday, the South Korean presidential Blue House said the North may have fired an upgraded 300mm-calibre multiple rocket launcher.
Pacific Command said the missiles did not pose a threat to the US mainland or to the Pacific territory of Guam, which North Korea had threatened earlier this month to surround in a"sea of fire".
Tensions had eased somewhat since a harsh exchange of words between Pyongyang and Washington after US President Donald Trump had warned Mr Kim he would face "fire and fury" if he threatened the US.
The South Korean and US militaries are in the midst of the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian drills, which run until Aug 31.
The region where the latest missiles were launched, Kittaeryong, is a known military test site often used by the North for short-range missile drills, said Professor Kim Dong Yup, a military expert at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul.
"So rather than a newly developed missile, it looks to be short-range missiles that they fired as part of their summer exercise and also in response to the Ulchi Freedom Guardian drill," he said.
Meanwhile China's commerce ministry late on Friday banned North Korean individuals and enterprises from doing new business in China, in line with United Nations Security Council sanctions passed earlier this month. Applications for new or expanded investment in North Korea by Chinese companies would not be approved, the ministry said. The new measures took effect immediately.
In Seoul, officials said on Friday South Korea is poised to complete the instalment of a US missile shield next week. The stationing of the remaining four launchers of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence system comes as the government wraps up a small-scale environmental review.
REUTERS, KOREA HERALD/ASIA NEWS NETWORK