North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into its eastern sea early Wednesday in what appeared to be a statement of defiance as the United States deployed a nuclear-armed submarine to South Korea for the first time in decades. The launches came as the U.S.-led United Nations Command tries to secure the release of a U.S. soldier who fled to North Korea from the South Korean side of a border village Tuesday afternoon. Private 2nd Class Travis King, in his early 20s, had just been released from a South Korean prison where he was held on assault charges. Instead of getting on a plane to be taken back to Fort Bliss, Texas, he left and joined a tour of the Korean border village of Panmunjom, where he ran across the border, U.S. officials say. Kim vows to boost North Korea's nuclear capability after observing new ICBM launch South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that from 3:30 to 3:46 a.m. North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles from an area near capital Pyongyang that flew about 550 kilometers (341 miles) before landing in waters east of the Korean Peninsula. Those flight details were similar to the assessment of the Japanese military, which said the missiles landed outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone and that there were no immediate reports of damage from ships or aircraft in affected areas. The flight distance of the North Korean missiles roughly matched the distance between Pyongyang and the South Korean port city of Busan, where the USS Kentucky arrived Tuesday afternoon in the first visit by a U.S. nuclear-armed submarine to South Korea since the 1980s. Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada told reporters that the North Korean missiles traveled on a low trajectory, with their maximum altitude reaching about 50 kilometers (31 miles), and possibly demonstrated “irregular maneuver” in flight. North Korea launches long-range missile toward sea after making threat over alleged US spy flights Japan has previously used similar language to describe the flight characteristics of a North Korean weapon modeled after Russia’s Iskander missile, which travels at low altitudes and is designed to be maneuverable in flight to improve its chances of evading missile defenses. The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff condemned the North Korean launches as “major provocation” that threatens peace and stability in the region and said the South Korean and U.S. militaries were closely monitoring the North for further weapons activities. North Korea opens key party meeting to tackle its struggling economy and talk defense strategies Wednesday’s launches marked the North’s first ballistic activity since July 12, when it flight-tested a new solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile that demonstrated potential range to reach deep into the U.S. mainland. That launch was supervised by the country’s authoritarian leader Kim Jong Un, who vowed to further bolster his country’s nuclear fighting capabilities in the face of expanding U.S.-South Korean military activities, which he blamed for worsening the security environment on the Korean Peninsula. Tensions have rose in the region in recent months as the pace of both North Korean weapons tests and U.S.-South Korean joint military drills have increased in a cycle of tit-for-tat. Since the start of 2022, North Korea has test-fired around 100 missiles while attempting to demonstrate a dual ability to conduct nuclear attacks on both South Korea and the continental United States. The allies in response have stepped up their joint military training and agreed to increase the deployments of U.S. strategic assets like long-range bombers, aircraft carriers and submarines to the region. Periodic visits by U.S. nuclear ballistic missile-capable submarines to South Korea were one of several agreements reached by U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in April in response to North Korea’s expanding nuclear threat. They also agreed to further expand combined military exercises, strengthen joint planning for nuclear contingencies and establish a bilateral Nuclear Consultative Group, which held its inaugural meeting in Seoul Tuesday. The steps were meant to ease South Korean concerns about North Korea's growing nuclear weapons arsenal and suppress voices within the South calling for the country to pursue its own nuclear weapons program. U.S. Forces Korea said in a statement that the Kentucky's arrival in Busan reflects the United States' “ironclad” commitment to “extended deterrence,” referring to an assurance to defend its ally with its full military capabilities, including nuclear ones. The Ohio-class submarine can be equipped with about 20 Trident II ballistic missiles with a range of 12,000 kilometers (7,456 miles), according to South Korea's military. “From this submarine, the U.S. can launch attacks (on North Korea) from anywhere in the world," said Moon Keun-sik, a submarine expert who teaches at Kyonggi University in South Korea. “But there will likely be backlashes from North Korea and China because it’s like the world’s most covert and threatening nuclear weapons forces being deployed on their doorsteps.” While some South Korean conservatives have expressed disappointment that the Biden-Yoon meeting in April came short of agreeing to station U.S. nuclear weapons or strategic assets in the South, placing nuclear weapons offshore and on submarines is “actually a stronger deterrent in many ways,” said Duyeon Kim, a senior analyst at Washington’s Center for a New American Security. “Deterrence is strengthened when the location of American strategic assets is unknown to the adversary as long as the adversary knows that these weapons exist,” said Kim. Still, Seoul and Washington will need to find the “sweet spot” when it comes to the visibility of America’s extended deterrent. “Too much visibility of strategic assets could actually undermine the deterrent effect while too little could raise questions in Seoul about commitment," Kim said.
A Chinese official lodged a complaint with South Korea's ambassador to China, in a tit-for-tat move after Beijing's envoy to South Korea was summoned last week over his comments accusing Seoul of tilting toward the United States. Assistant Foreign Minister Nong Rong expressed dissatisfaction with Seoul's response to last week's meeting between Chinese Ambassador Xing Haiming and a South Korean opposition leader, according to a statement Sunday from China's Foreign Ministry. Also Read: South Korea, US troops to hold massive live-fire drills near border with North Korea Nong said it was Xing's duty to meet with different people in South Korea and he hoped Seoul would reflect on the relationship between the two countries and work with China to promote healthy and stable ties, the statement added. The diplomatic row between China and South Korea comes amid fierce competition between Washington and Beijing for global influence. South Korea, whose economy depends greatly on exports of computer memory chips and other technology products, has struggled to strike a balance between the United States, its decades-long military ally, and China, the biggest buyer of its goods. On Friday, South Korean First Vice Foreign Minister Chang Ho-jin warned Xing over his "senseless and provocative" remarks made during a meeting with South Korean Democratic Party leader Lee Jae-myung, a key rival of conservative President Yoon Suk Yeo. Also Read: US confirms China has had a spy base in Cuba since at least 2019 In the meeting last week, Xing accused Yoon's government of leaning excessively toward Seoul's treaty ally, the U.S., and damaging its relations with China. Xing said South Korea was entirely to blame for the "many difficulties" in bilateral relations, citing its growing trade deficit with China, which he attributed to "de-Chinaization" efforts, apparently referring to actions by South Korean companies to shift their supply chains away from China. Also read: World leaders warn China and North Korea on nukes as Ukraine's Zelenskyy travels to G7 summit His comments quickly drew ire from Seoul, which accused Xing of violating diplomatic protocols and interfering with South Korean domestic politics.
A man who opened an emergency exit door during a flight in South Korea was formally arrested Sunday and faces up to 10 years in prison on a charge of violating the aviation security law, officials said. During a preliminary questioning, the 33-year-old told investigators that he felt suffocated and tried to get off the plane quickly, according to police. Twelve people were slightly injured on Friday after he opened the door of the Asiana Airlines Airbus A321-200, causing air to blast inside the cabin. The plane was preparing to land in Daegu on an hour-long flight from the southern island of Jeju. On Sunday, a district court in Daegu approved a warrant to formally arrest the man. Police earlier sought the arrest warrant, citing the graveness of the crime and a possibility the man may flee, according to Daegu police. Daegu police said they have up to 20 days to investigate the man before determining whether to send him to prosecutors for a possible indictment. If convicted, he faces a maximum sentence of 10 years in prison for breaching the aviation security law that bars passengers from handling entry doors, emergency exit doors and other equipment on board, according to the Transport Ministry. Daegu police said the man, surnamed Lee, told them that he was under stress after losing a job recently and that he wanted to get out of the plane soon because he was feeling suffocated just before landing. The plane was carrying 200 people, 194 of them passengers including teenage athletes on their way to a track and field competition. The man pulled the door open when the plane was reaching the Daegu airport at an altitude of 700 feet (213 meters), according to the Transport Ministry. The people who were taken to hospitals were mainly treated for minor problems such as breathing difficulties.
The South Korean and U.S. militaries were set to begin massive live-fire drills near the border with North Korea on Thursday, despite the North’s warning that it won’t tolerate what it calls such a hostile invasion rehearsal on its doorstep. Thursday’s drills, the first of the allies’ five rounds of firing exercises until mid-June, mark 70 years since the establishment of the military alliance between Seoul and Washington. North Korea has typically reacted to such major South Korean-U.S. exercises with missile and other weapons tests. Since the start of 2022, North Korea has test-launched more than 100 missiles but none since it fired a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile in mid-April. North Korea has argued its torrid pace of tests was meant to respond to the expanded military drills between the U.S. and South Korea, but observers say the North aims to advance its weapons development then wrest greater concessions from its rivals in eventual diplomacy. The U.S.-South Korean firing exercises, called “the combined annihilation firepower drills,” would be the biggest of their kind. The drills have been held 11 times since they began in 1977, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry. Ministry officials said this year’s drills are to involve advanced stealth fighter jets, attack helicopters, multiple rocket launch systems and other weapons from South Korea and the United States. It wasn't immediately known how many troops would take part in the drills, but previous exercises in 2017 drew about 2,000 soldiers and 250 weapons assets from both countries. An earlier Defense Ministry statement said the drills are meant to enhance the allies’ combined operational performance capabilities. It said South Korea and the United States will seek to establish “the overwhelming deterrence and response capabilities” to cope with North Korean nuclear and missile threats. Last Friday, North Korea’s state media called the drills “a typical North Korea-targeted war rehearsal.” It said North Korea “cannot but take a more serious note of the fact that” that the drills would be held in an area a few kilometers (miles) from its frontier. KCNA said the U.S. and South Korea will face unspecified “corresponding responses” over their series of large-scale, provocative drills. Earlier this year, the South Korean and U.S. militaries conducted their biggest field exercises in five years. The U.S. also sent the nuclear-powered USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and nuclear-capable bombers for joint exercises with South Korea. Also read: World leaders warn China and North Korea on nukes as Ukraine's Zelenskyy travels to G7 summit In their summit last month, U.S. President Joe Biden and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol announced steps to reinforce their deterrence capabilities such as the periodic docking U.S. nuclear-armed submarines in South Korea; bolstering joint training exercises; and the establishment of a new nuclear consultative group. Biden also issued a blunt warning that any North Korean nuclear attack on the U.S. or its allies would “result in the end of whatever regime” took such action. Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, later said the Biden-Yoon summit agreement revealed the two countries’ “most hostile and aggressive will of action” against the North. She threatened to further bolster her country’s escalatory nuclear doctrine, saying “The pipe dream of the U.S. and South Korea will henceforth be faced with the entity of more powerful strength.” Worries about North Korea’s nuclear program grew after the North last year legislated a law that authorizes the preemptive use of nuclear weapons. Many foreign experts say North Korea has yet to possess functioning nuclear missiles.
Amid the high-level efforts to deal with a raft of global emergencies, this weekend's Group of 7 summit of rich democracies will also see an unusual diplomatic reconciliation as the leaders of Japan and South Korea look to continue mending ties that have been marked for years by animosity and bickering. At first glance the two neighbors would seem to be natural partners. They are powerful, advanced democracies and staunch U.S. allies in a region beset with autocratic threats. The continuing fallout, however, from centuries of complicated, acrimonious history, culminating in the brutal 1910-1945 Japanese colonization of the Korean Peninsula, has resulted in more wariness than friendship. Also Read: Japan leader expresses sympathy for Korean colonial victims A big part of the sudden recent shift in tone is a shared focus on China's growing aggressiveness, t he threat of North Korea's fast-improving arsenal of nuclear-capable missiles — and deep worry about how Russia's war in Ukraine is influencing both issues. Some diplomatic nudging by Washington, which provides military protection for both its allies and wants them to more strongly counter China's rising global influence, has also helped. Tokyo and Seoul “understand that their survival, both nationally and politically, depends on subordinating themselves to the U.S. President Joe Biden administration’s global and regional priorities,” according to Daniel Sneider, an East Asia lecturer at Stanford University. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida's invitation for South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol to be a guest at the G-7 talks in Hiroshima is only the most recent sign of these reset ties. It follows back-to-back summits by the leaders, which hadn't happened in years. Japan also agreed to South Korea's request to send an experts’ team later this month to visit the destroyed Fukushima nuclear power plant to view preparation for a planned release into the ocean of treated but still slightly radioactive wastewater. Also Read; South Korea, US, Japan hold anti-North Korea submarine drill The G-7 summit, which runs Friday through Sunday, will allow the leaders to deepen their burgeoning relationship — Kishida, Yoon and Biden plan to meet on the sidelines — while also working to persuade the world's most powerful leaders to tighten defense cooperation as China and North Korea expand their military postures in the region. History issues have long harried Seoul and Tokyo. Ties worsened in 2018, for instance, after South Korean court rulings ordered two Japanese companies to compensate a group of Korean plaintiffs who the companies had used for wartime slave labor. Disagreement over the rulings later spilled over to trade and military cooperation issues. Japan insists all compensation issues were settled by a 1965 treaty that normalized relations. Yoon’s summits with Kishida came after his government announced a domestically unpopular plan in March to use South Korean corporate funds to compensate the forced laborers. The move was aimed at preventing the courts from liquidizing the Japanese companies’ local assets, which would cause a further diplomatic rupture. Kishida agreed to a resumption of defense, trade and other talks in his meetings with Yoon, and Japan recently announced that it is negotiating an agreement with Washington and Seoul on sharing real-time data on North Korean missile launches. Seoul and Tokyo are both worried about the geopolitical uncertainty created by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, which has raised fears about similar Chinese aggression in the South and East China Seas and against Taiwan, the democratic, self-governing island that Beijing claims as its own. North Korea also used the global focus on the invasion to ramp up its tests of nuclear-capable missiles. Japan is one of many nations in Asia that has territorial disputes with China, something that has strongly figured into Kishida's push to distance Japan from its post-World War II principle of self-defense only. Last year, Tokyo adopted a new national security strategy that includes the goals of acquiring preemptive strike capabilities and cruise missiles to counter threats from North Korea, China and Russia. Alarmed by the growing North Korean threat — Pyongyang has test-launched around 100 missiles since the start of 2022 — Yoon may be using better relations with Japan as a way to forge a stronger alliance with the United States. Yoon’s government has expanded its combined military exercises with the United States, which also included three-way drills with Japan, while seeking greater assurances from Washington that it would swiftly and decisively use its nuclear weapons to protect its allies in the event of a North Korean nuclear attack. “There’s growing recognition (in both Tokyo and Seoul) that the region’s various security issues are becoming increasingly interconnected,” which is leading the countries to reassess their importance to each other, said Jin Chang Soo, an analyst at South Korea’s Sejong Institute. During a recent meeting in Washington, Yoon and Biden agreed to a declaration that includes more nuclear information-sharing and regular visits to South Korea by a U.S. nuclear-powered sub. The Biden administration may now be pushing for an extended deterrence dialogue among Washington, Seoul and Tokyo that “would convey a formidable response both to North Korea and to China, and even to a potential Chinese–Russian military axis,” Sneider recently wrote. Hiroshima, the first target of a nuclear weapon in history, could provide a symbolic backdrop for Kishida and Yoon to raise awareness about the North Korean threat while underlining goals for nuclear non-proliferation. In another trust-building gesture, Kishida and Yoon plan to pay their respects at a Hiroshima memorial for Korean atomic bomb victims. Despite the improving ties, however, there's no certainty how long reconciliation will last. After decades of poverty and dictatorship following the 1950-53 Korean War, South Korea has become a developed economic and military power. But there are large policy swings between conservative governments, like the one in power now, and liberal governments that are more wary of stronger ties with Japan and the United States. And then there are the historical issues, including continuing court hearings on forced labor, which remain “buried like landmines, not far from the surface and ready to be set off,” Sneider said.
Economic cooperation needed among countries in South and Southeast Asia: PM tells outgoing Korean envoy
Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina on Tuesday (May 16, 2023) called for economic cooperation among the countries in South and Southeast Asia for mutual benefits of the people in the regions. The prime minister said this while outgoing Ambassador of Republic of Korea, Lee Jang-keun, called on her at her official residence Ganabhaban. PM’s press secretary Ihsanul Karim briefed reporters after the meeting. He said that PM Hasina admired South Korea’s success in transforming into a developed country within a generation. Also Read: PM delivers 4-point recommendations at 79th UNESCAP Session She mentioned that this success inspired Bangladesh in its endeavour to steer the nation towards development and prosperity. The PM recalled her two visits to South Korea, saying that during the second visit she witnessed the amazing development there. While highly appreciating the socio-economic development of Bangladesh under the visionary leadership of Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, the outgoing ambassador expressed deep appreciation for extensive cooperation and hospitality demonstrated by the PM and Bangladeshis during his tenure in Bangladesh. Ambassador Lee shared with the Prime Minister recent milestone development in relations between Korea and Bangladesh in multiple areas such as trade, official development assistance, expatriate workers and investment in the year of 50th anniversary of South Korea-Bangladesh diplomatic ties in 2023, the South Korean Embassy in Dhaka said. Read More:PM Hasina: Keep up the country’s dev momentum to foil anti-national conspirators Ambassador Lee explained that the trade between South Korea and Bangladesh crossed the $3 billion mark in 2022 and $2 billion in 2021 for the first time, which was stagnant at around $1.5-1.8 billion over a decade before the Covid-19 pandemic.
Japan’s prime minister expressed sympathy for the suffering of Korean forced laborers during Japan’s colonial rule, as he and his South Korean counterpart on Sunday renewed resolve to overcome historical grievances and strengthen cooperation in the face of shared challenges such as North Korea’s nuclear program. Comments by Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida during his summit with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol — their second meeting in less than two months — were closely watched in South Korea, where many still harbor strong resentment against Japan's 1910-45 colonial occupation of the Korean Peninsula. Yoon has faced domestic criticism that he had preemptively made concessions to Tokyo without getting corresponding steps in return. Kishida’s statement, which avoided a new, direct apology over the colonization but still sympathized with the Korean victims, suggests he felt pressure to say something to maintain momentum for an effort to improve ties. “And personally, I have strong pain in my heart as I think of the extreme difficulty and sorrow that many people had to suffer under the severe environment in those days,” Kishida told a joint news conference with Yoon, referring to the Japanese colonial period. He said he believes “it is my responsibility as prime minister of Japan to cooperate with” Yoon to forge stronger relations. Kishida arrived in South Korea earlier Sunday for a two-day visit, which reciprocates a mid-March trip to Tokyo by Yoon and marks the first exchange of visits between the leaders of the Asian neighbors in 12 years. The back-to-back summits were largely meant to resolve the countries’ bitter disputes caused by the 2018 court rulings in South Korea that ordered two Japanese companies to financially compensate some of their aging former Korean employees for colonial-era forced labor. Japan has refused to abide by the verdicts, arguing that all compensation issues were already settled when the two countries normalized ties in 1965. The wrangling led to the countries downgrading each other’s trade status and Seoul’s previous liberal government threatening to spike a military intelligence-sharing pact. Their strained ties complicated U.S. efforts to build a stronger regional alliance to better cope with rising Chinese influence and North Korean nuclear threats. In March, however, Yoon’s conservative government took a major step toward mending the ties by announcing it would use local funds to compensate the forced labor victims without demanding contributions from Japanese companies. Later in March, Yoon traveled to Tokyo to meet with Kishida, and the two agreed to resume leadership-level visits and other talks. Their governments have since taken steps to withdraw their economic retaliatory steps. Yoon’s push, however, drew strong backlash from some of the forced labor victims and his liberal rivals at home, who have demanded direct compensation from the Japanese companies. Yoon has defended his move, saying greater cooperation with Japan is required to jointly tackle North Korea’s advancing nuclear program, the intensifying U.S.-China strategic rivalry and global supply chain challenges. “We should stay away from a thinking that we must not make a step forward because our history issues aren’t settled completely,” Yoon said Sunday. He said that 10 out of the 15 former forced laborers or their families involved in the 2018 rulings had accepted compensation under Seoul’s third-party reimbursement plan. Kishida said: “I’m struck by the fact that many people, despite their painful memories from the past, opened their hearts for the future as measures by the South Korean government related to (the fund) move forward.” Kishida also reaffirmed his government upholds the positions of previous Japanese administrations on the colonization issue, including the landmark 1998 joint declaration by Tokyo and Seoul, but didn’t make a new apology. In that declaration, then-Japanese Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi said: “I feel acute remorse and offer an apology from my heart” over the colonial rule. Japanese governments have expressed remorse or apologies over the colonial period numerous times. But some Japanese officials and politicians have occasionally made comments that have been accused of whitewashing Tokyo’s wartime aggressions, prompting Seoul to urge Tokyo to make new, more sincere apologies. Ahead of his summit with Yoon, Kishida and his wife, Yuko Kishida, visited the national cemetery in Seoul, where they burned incense and paid a silent tribute before a memorial. Buried or honored in the cemetery are mostly Korean War dead, but include Korean independence fighters during the period of Japanese rule. Kishida was the first Japanese leader to visit the place in 12 years. “Kishida’s comments about Koreans who suffered under Japanese colonialism may be criticized for not being more specific about historical perpetrators and more apologetic toward historical victims,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said. “But Kishida did visit South Korea’s national cemetery and said that his heartfelt views, respect for the past, and recognition of current global challenges produce a sense of responsibility for improving Seoul-Tokyo relations.” Yoon said talks among Seoul, Tokyo and Washington are underway to implement their earlier agreement on a faster exchange of information on North Korean missile tests. Yoon said he and Kishida reaffirmed that North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs pose a grave threat to the two countries and the rest of the world. In late April, Yoon made a state visit to the United States and agreed with President Joe Biden to reinforce deterrence capabilities against North Korea's nuclear threats. During a joint news conference, Biden thanked Yoon “for your political courage and personal commitment to diplomacy with Japan.” Yoon, Biden and Kishida are expected to hold a trilateral meeting later this month on the sidelines of the Group of Seven meetings in Hiroshima to discuss North Korea, China's assertiveness and Russia's war on Ukraine. Yoon was invited as one of eight outreach nations. Kishida said he and Yoon would pay respects before a memorial for Korean atomic bomb victims in Hiroshima. In another apparent conciliatory measure, Kishida said Japan will allow South Korean experts to visit and inspect a planned release of treated but still radioactive wastewater from the damaged Fukushima nuclear power plant.
Mayor of South Korea’s Incheon metropolitan city, Yoo Jeong-bok, has said drone taxis will be up and running between Incheon International Airport and the capital city Seoul in 2025. “Incheon is considered one of the best places to do business and a great place to invest in (South) Korea by leading companies at home and abroad,” he said. The mayor was addressing a farewell reception marking the conclusion of the World Journalists Conference 2023 in Incheon on April 28. Read More: Known for laughs, DC dinner spotlights risks of journalism.
Fast-evolving tech may pose ‘unprecedented crises’ if journalists aren’t prepared: World Journalists Conference
President of Journalists Association of Korea (JAK) Kim Dong Hoon has said science and digital technology are evolving faster than ever and journalism may face “unprecedented crises” if they do not prepare for the future. “This is why we must reflect on issues and develop solutions now,” he said while speaking on the first day of the five-day World Journalists Conference-2023 that began in Seoul on Tuesday, seeking collaborative efforts for a brighter future for journalism globally. Kim said although participants from around the world have different nationalities, races, genders, and ideas, they all share the same identity as journalists who strive for truth, freedom and peace with sharp reasoning and warm hearts. “We now live in an era where we can access the news and information we need anytime, anywhere with a single smartphone. Things that were unimaginable just a few years ago have become a reality,” he said. Under the topic of “The Challenge of Journalism for Regional Development”, journalists discussed solution case studies that examine local community issues and propose solutions.
The South Korean, U.S. and Japanese navies began their first anti-submarine drills in six months on Monday to boost their coordination against increasing North Korean missile threats, South Korea’s military said. The two-day drills come as North Korea’s recent unveiling of a type of battlefield nuclear warhead prompted worries the country may conduct first nuclear test since 2017. The maritime exercises in international waters off South Korea’s southern island of Jeju involved the nuclear-powered USS Nimitz aircraft carrier and naval destroyers from South Korea, the U.S. and Japan, South Korea’s Defense Ministry said in a statement. Also Read: Kim wants N. Korea to make more nuclear material for bombs The training was arranged to improve the three countries’ capacities to respond to underwater security threats posed by North Korea’s advancing submarine-launched ballistic missiles and other assets, the statement said. It said the three countries were to detect and track unmanned South Korean and U.S. underwater vehicles posing as enemy submarines and other assets. Submarine-launched missiles by North Korea are serious security threats to the United States and its allies because it’s harder to spot such launches in advance. In recent year, the North has been testing sophisticated underwater-launched ballistic missiles and pushing to build bigger submarines including a nuclear-powered one. Last month, North Korea performed a barrage of missile tests in response to the earlier South Korea-U.S. bilateral military drills. The weapons tested included a nuclear-capable underwater drone and a submarine-launched cruise missile, which suggest North Korea is trying to diversify its kinds of underwater weapons. Also Read: North Korea test-fires 2 more missiles as US sends carrier Photographs in North Korea's state media last week showed about 10 capsule-shaped, red-tipped warheads called “Hwasan (volcano)-31” with different serial numbers. A poster on a nearby wall listed eight kinds of short-range weapons that can carry the “Hwasan-31” warhead. The previous test flights of those weapons show they are capable of striking key targets in South Korea, including U.S. military bases there. Some observers say the warhead’s unveiling may be a prelude to a nuclear test as North Korea's last two tests in 2016 and 2017 followed the disclosures of other warheads. If it does conduct a nuclear test, it would be its seventh detonation overall and the first since September 2017. Foreign experts debate whether North Korea has functioning nuclear-armed missiles. But South Korea’s defense minister, Lee Jong-Sup, recently said the North’s technology to build miniaturized warheads to be mounted on advanced short-range missiles was believed to have made considerable progress. North Korea could carry out new missile tests in response to the South Korea-U.S.-Japan drills because it views such training as a security threat. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un called recent South Korea-U.S. exercises “reckless military provocations” that disregarded North Korea's "patience and warning.” In remarks carried in the Defense Ministry statement, Rear Adm. Kim Inho, chief of the South Korean forces involved in the trilateral drills, said “We’ll decisively respond to and neutralize any type of provocation by North Korea.” In addition to anti-submarine drills, the three countries will practice humanitarian search-and-rescue operations, including saving people who fall into the water and treating emergency patients. It would be the three countries’ first such training in seven years, the Defense Ministry statement said.