South Korea has responded to Sunday’s nuclear test by North Korea with a huge show of military force and moves to boost its ability to counter missile attacks from its neighbour.
The army and air force drills, held at an undisclosed location on Monday morning, involved launching ballistic missiles in a simulated strike against North Korea’s Punggye-ri nuclear test site – the scene of Sunday’s controlled detonation of what Pyongyang claimed was a powerful hydrogen bomb capable of being loaded on to an intercontinental ballistic missile.
The drills were held hours after James Mattis, the US defence secretary, threatened a “massive military response” if North Korea threatened the US or any of its allies.
In a sign that South Korea’s president, Moon Jae-in, is hardening his stance towards Pyongyang, his government is poised to approve additional deployments of a controversial US missile defence system, possibly as early as this week.
The new launchers will also be deployed in Seongju, about 300km south of Seoul. Each Thaad battery comprises six launchers and a radar system. China has angrily opposed Thaad deployments, saying the system’s powerful radar could be used to spy on its own missile programme and so represents a threat to its national security.
Moon and Japan’s prime minister, Shinzo Abe, will push hard for new sanctions against North Korea when the UN security council meets later on Monday.
Abe told Moon that Sunday’s nuclear test was “a head-on challenge to the international community,” according to Japan’s deputy chief cabinet secretary, Yasutoshi Nishimura.
Abe said the international community should bring the “strongest possible pressure” to bear on Pyongyang, including additional sanctions. Abe added that Japan would urge China and Russia to do more to pressure the North Korean regime to halt its ballistic missile and nuclear weapons programmes.
Moon said South Korea vowed to maintain a strong bilateral security alliance with the US to counter provocations from the North, after Trump chastised Seoul for pursuing “appeasement” towards Pyongyang.