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North Korea’s neighbors shore up their defenses

Pyongyang launches missiles during joint military drills by U.S. and South Korea

U.S. soldiers participate in a joint Freedom Shield exercise with South Korean soldiers in Paju, South Korea, on March 16. Getty Images/Photo by Chung Sung-Jun

North Korea’s neighbors shore up their defenses

Hours after North Korea launched a test of an intercontinental ballistic missile on Thursday, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol shook hands with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in Tokyo. It was the first official visit by a South Korean president to Japan since 2011.

Disputes over matters such as the enslavement of South Korean women in Japanese military brothels during World War II have long divided the neighboring countries. But they are mending ties to confront an increasing threat from North Korea.

North Korea conducted a series of missile launches in the past week. Ahead of joint South Korean and U.S. military exercises—11-day drills known as Freedom Shield that began on Monday—North Korea test-fired two cruise missiles from a submarine on Sunday. It then fired two short-range ballistic missiles on Tuesday.

“North Korea will pay a clear price for such reckless provocations,” Yoon’s office said in a statement. The South Korean government supports the denuclearization of the Korean peninsula, but South Koreans, including the mayor of Seoul, are increasingly calling for their country to develop its own nuclear weapons for self-defense, reported Reuters.

“North Korea almost certainly will respond to allied exercises … with numerous missile launches and its own large-scale military movements,” wrote Bruce Klingner, a senior research fellow for Northeast Asia at The Heritage Foundation. Klingner said North Korea has increased its missile launches during allied exercises in the past.

Klingner believes the regime could also conduct its seventh nuclear test, likely of “a new generation of low-yield tactical nuclear weapons for battlefield use.”

Past nuclear tests released radioactive materials that threaten the health of hundreds of thousands of North Koreans living near the Punggye-ri test site, the Transitional Justice Working Group, a Seoul-based human rights organization, reported in February.

People in neighboring countries also face health risks from North Korea’s radioactive contamination, the group says. North Korean exports agricultural products such as pine mushrooms that have been contaminated by water with radioactive materials.

While North Korea’s military actions pose a geopolitical threat to the world, the regime continues to violate human rights within its own borders. At a forum on Capitol Hill on Tuesday, three women who escaped from the North shared their experiences with U.S. congressional staffers.

One defector said she endured 50 days of torture after she was caught making phone calls to South Korea. Another woman, whose entire savings was confiscated by the regime, recounted how prison guards punished detainees simply for defecating. The third speaker witnessed her father hitting her mother while growing up. “No one came to stop the beatings—there is no 911 to call,” she said.

Suzanne Scholte, president of the U.S.-based Defense Forum Foundation, which organized the event, is working to prevent North Koreans who have escaped to China from being repatriated to the North, where they could be executed.

Concluding the forum, Scholte shouted in Korean, “Please, God, free North Korea!”

These summarize the news that I could never assemble or discover by myself. —Keith

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