Seoul (CNN) — North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into waters off the eastern coast of the Korean Peninsula on Thursday morning local time, according to South Korea’s chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, ratcheting up tensions in the area amid of a series of displays of military might this week.
According to the South Korean statement, the launch of a ballistic missile from the Samsok area, in the North Korean capital, is the sixth that North Korea has carried out in the last two weeks.
It also closely follows a highly provocative launch by the country on Tuesday, when North Korea fired a ballistic missile without warning at Japan, the first in five years, prompting Tokyo to urge residents to take shelter.
The United States and South Korea later responded with missile launches and exercises around the peninsula on Tuesday and Wednesday.
Speaking Wednesday during a trip to South America, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken warned that if North Korea continues “down this path” of provocation, “it will only increase condemnation, increase isolation, and increase the steps that are taken in response to their actions.”
Last month, the navies of the United States, Japan and South Korea held joint anti-submarine exercises in international waters off the eastern coast of the Korean peninsula to improve response capabilities against North Korean submarine threats.
The USS Ronald Reagan aircraft carrier and its carrier strike group, as well as destroyers from South Korea and Japan, participated in the joint exercise, according to the South Korean Navy.
Pyongyang on Thursday accused the United States of contributing to tensions on the Korean peninsula and called its own launches reactive.
The United States blames Russia and China for encouraging Pyongyang
The latest North Korean launch came hours after a Security Council briefing at the United Nations headquarters in New York on its weapons program.
In her intervention before the Council, the US ambassador to the United Nations, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, accused Russia and China of enabling the nation, without naming them.
North Korea “has enjoyed the blanket protection of two members of this Council. These two members have gone out of their way to justify the DPRK’s repeated provocations and block any attempt to update the sanctions regime,” he said.
Referring to Russia and China, Thomas-Greenfield said that “two permanent members of the Security Council have allowed [el líder norcoreano] Kim Jong Un” continue with these “provocations”.
But China responded that it was Washington that was raising tensions.
“The United States has recently been strengthening its military alliances in the Asia-Pacific region and intensifying the risk of a military confrontation on the nuclear issue,” Chinese Deputy Ambassador to the UN Geng Shuang told a Security Council meeting. .
The United States is “poisoning the regional security environment,” he added.
Russia also blamed the United States.
“It is obvious that Pyongyang’s missile launches were a response to the shortsighted military activities of the United States,” said Anna Evstigneeva, Russia’s deputy permanent representative to the UN.
More tests expected from North Korea
Experts warn that recent North Korean tests suggest an even greater escalation in weapons testing could be on the horizon.
“North Korea is going to continue to conduct missile tests until the current round of modernization is finished,” Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, told CNN earlier this week.
A nuclear test could come “at any moment,” he added.
South Korean and US officials have warned since May that North Korea may be preparing a nuclear test, with satellite images showing activity at its underground nuclear test center.
If North Korea conducts a test, it would be the country’s seventh underground nuclear test and the first in nearly five years.
Richard Roth, Jonny Hallam, Larry Register, and Sahar Akbarzai contributed reporting.