North Korea sent a patrol boat into sovereign South Korean waters just days after violating international sanctions by shooting a long-range rocket into space, allegedly to install a new satellite into orbit. South Korea’s navy forced the patrol boat to retreat, firing multiple warning shots in its direction.
The Agence-France Presse reports that a North Korean patrol vessel crossed into the South Korean waters of the Yellow Sea on Sunday, but “quickly retreated after the South Korean navy fired warning shots,” according to an unnamed Seoul defense ministry official. The AFP describes the incident as “quite common,” as Pyongyang does not recognize the border between North and South Korea in the Yellow Sea, known as the “Northern Limit Line.”
South Korean news agency Yonhap confirmed that South Korea fired five rounds of warning shots against the North Korean ship.
The exchange is the latest in a series of increasingly tense actions between the two Koreas, escalating following Pyongyang’s claim of having detonated a hydrogen bomb in early January. Since then, South Korea has begun anti-Kim Jong-un broadcasts into North Korea from the border, which also feature Korean pop music and discussions of politics in Seoul. In response, North Korea has dumped hundreds of thousands of propaganda leaflets calling South Korea “the Republic of Garbage” across the border, packed into bags of actual refuse, including cigarette butts and, reportedly, used toilet paper.
The latest maritime incident follows the launch of a long-range rocket out of North Korea, allegedly to place an “earth observation” satellite into orbit. North Korea celebrated the launch with fireworks and effusive praise for its communist dictator Kim. “We hope that the future of our space technology keeps growing and shines like these fireworks in the sky,” a North Korean news anchor allegedly said on air, according to CNN.
“The fascinating vapor of Juche satellite trailing in the clear and blue sky in spring of February on the threshold of the Day of the Shining Star, the greatest national holiday of Kim Il Sung’s Korea, is a gift of most intense loyalty presented by our space scientists and technicians to the great Comrade Kim Jong Un, our dignified party, state and people,” read a column praising the launch in the state-controlled Rodong Sinmun newspaper.
“We raised the cheers of hurrah for the successful launch of satellite,” Rodong quotes a college student, Han Un Chol, as saying.
South Korean officials alleged the satellite sent into orbit is “worthless,” according to Yonhap, which would indicate that North Korea was testing the rocket sending it into space, not the technology they claim the rocket was meant to install in space. South Korean intelligence officials have deemed the launch a “ballistic missile” test, in violation of United Nations sanctions. South Korean officials told Yonhap they believe “key parts of a long-range missile from Russia” went into the construction of this rocket.
CNN notes that the United Nations is “strongly condemning” the launch. The rocket is “a clear threat to international peace and security continues to exist, especially in the context of the nuclear test,” according to the Venezuelan ambassador to the United Nations Security Council. While North Korea has close ties only to China – a permanent member of the Security Council – its diplomats have attempted to establish closer ties with the socialist regime in Caracas, opening an embassy in the Venezuelan capital last year. Pyongyang officials have also praised President Nicolás Maduro’s election, widely considered a fraudulent one, as an expression of the Venezuelan people’s “firm will to stay on the path of socialism.”
The Chinese government has said little regarding North Korea’s latest provocation. Instead, the Foreign Ministry has condemned negotiations between South Korea and the United States to bolster defensive measures for Seoul in light of recent North Korean activity. The Chinese Foreign Ministry expressed “deep concern” in a statement over the installation of a new American missile defense system, adding, “China holds a consistent and clear stance on the anti-missile issue.”
President Barack Obama said the United States was not surprised that North Korea went ahead with its launch. “This is something that we have anticipated… They are not very good at feeding their people, but they invest a huge amount in their weapons systems.”