What’s happening on the Korean peninsula?

What’s happening on the Korean peninsula?
FILE PHOTO: A North Korean flag flutters at the propaganda village of Gijungdong in North Korea, in this picture taken near the truce village of Panmunjom inside the demilitarized zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, South Korea, July 19, 2022. REUTERS/Kim Hong-Ji/Pool

Things are heating up between North and South Korea, with the US and Japan also getting involved. Over the past couple of months, South Korea and the US launched a series of joint military exercises to deter North Korea. But North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has interpreted them as a preparation for war, and the country began firing its own missiles in what it calls a “just counteraction.” One of these missiles was nuclear-capable and went over Japan, leading Japan and the US to carry out drills in response.

On Thursday, South Korean, American and Japanese destroyers practiced drills off the east coast to test their abilities to search, track and intercept ballistic missiles. This was after North Korea launched more missiles close to the South to protest the return of a US aircraft carrier off the coast. Then, a bombing drill by at least eight North Korean fighter jets and four bombers led to South Korea scrambling 30 military planes in response. South Korea believes the North’s jets were conducting air-to-surface firing drills.

Some experts say that Kim Jong Un’s goal is to be recognized internationally as a nuclear power and have sanctions against the country lifted. Last month, Kim passed a new law allowing automatic preemptive nuclear strikes in self-defense, which was a move that he said made the country’s nuclear status “irreversible.”

Key comments:

North Korea’s Foreign Ministry released a statement Thursday calling the redeployment of the Reagan strike group is “a serious threat to the stability of the situation on the Korean peninsula and in its vicinity.”

“This is the sixth time in the short period just counting the ones from the end of September,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said to reporters. “This absolutely cannot be tolerated.”

“We strongly condemn the DPRK’s dangerous and reckless launch of a long-range missile that flew over Japan, endangering Japanese citizens,” US Secretary of State Antony Blinken said. “I spoke almost immediately to my Japanese and Korean counterparts, and I think you’ve seen that we are working very closely together, both on a bilateral basis but also on a trilateral basis, the United States, Korea and Japan, to demonstrate and strengthen our defensive and deterrent capabilities in light of the threat from North Korea.”

At an emergency UN Security Council meeting over North Korea’s missile launches, both China and Russia have blocked attempts to strengthen sanctions against North Korea. “The US has recently been bolstering its military alliances in the Asia Pacific region and intensifying the risk of military confrontation on the nuclear issue,” said Chinese Deputy Ambassador to the UN Geng Shuang at the meeting.