North Korea blasted a barrage of about 100 missiles into waters claimed by South Korea on Monday, and in a response straight out the most bizarre moments of Cold War absurdity, South Korea “retaliated” by launching 300 artillery shells of its own into the water on the North Korea side of a disputed maritime border.
The watery border, known as the Northern Limit Line, lies in the Yellow Sea, but North Korea does not recognize the line as legitimate border. The North warned South Korea that it would engage in live missile firings if the South held its planned joint military exercises with the United States.
North Korea Disputes Maritime Border Line
With those exercises underway Monday, North Korea made good on its word and fired 500 missiles into the waters of the Yellow Sea. It was the second time in two weeks that North Korea fired missiles into the water. But this time, about 100 of those shells splashed down south of the Northern Limit Line in waters that the South Koreans say belongs to them.
“It’s up to the two militaries either to recognize or reject their own claimed line, and challenge the other’s – this goes back and forth, so this is probably another episode of that,” said Korea expert Daniel Pinkston of the International Crisis Group.
“Some artillery fire landed in the southern part of Northern Limit Line but in the water. We counter-fired over the Northern Limit Line,” a South Korean Defense Ministry spokesperson announced. “We are not shooting at North Korea, just shooting into the sea.”
The two Koreas which have technically remained in a state of war since fighting ended in the three-year military conflict between them in 1953. In the Korean War, United States troops fought on the side of the South while China sent military forces to fight for the Communist North.
U.S. And China Express Concern As Missile Exchange Heightens Tensions
Even though the spectacle of the two enemy countries wasting expensive missiles by blasting them into the sea just to make a point appears crazy and even laughable to an extent, the missile fire exchange has raised tensions not only on the Korean peninsula, but with allies of the two sides as well.
In the United States, Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel condemned the Noth Korea “provocation,” calling the missile fire, “dangerous, and it needs to stop.”
On the other side, China’s Foreign Ministry expressed “worry” over the back-and-forth missile exchange.
“The temperature is rising at present on the Korean Peninsula, and this worries us,” said spokesperson Hong Lei. “We hope that all sides can remain calm and exercise restraint.”
Some analysts believe that the real target of the North Korea missile barrage was the United States, or at least its policy-makers.
“North Korea is saying, ‘You can do all the exercises you want and we have the ability to hit you at a moment’s notice,'” said North Korea expert Bruce Bechtol.