Reports of an exchange of fire between two rival nations of the Korean Peninsula amid already growing tensions have signaled a potential emergence of yet another foreign policy crisis for President Joe Biden , who has vowed to stand by his allies in Asia as a larger geopolitical contest looms across the region.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff announced Sunday, early Monday local time, that its naval forces fired warning shots after a North Korean merchant vessel crossed a contested maritime boundary known as the Northern Limit Line in the Yellow Sea, called the West Sea by the Koreas, according to South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency.
In North Korea, an announcement was issued shortly afterward by the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army, which asserted that it was the South’s forces that violated the disputed sea boundary.
“An escort ship of the 2nd Fleet of the puppet south Korean navy invaded the Military Demarcation Line under the control of the Korean People’s Army on the sea 2.5 to 5 km in the waters 20 km northwest of Paekryong Island at around 3:50 on Monday to open ‘warning fire’ on the excuse of controlling an unidentified ship,” the statement said, according to North Korea’s state-run Korean Central News Agency.
Pyongyang then conducted retaliatory measures.
“The KPA General Staff ordered the coastal defence units on the western front to keep strict monitoring and counteraction readiness and made sure they took an initial countermeasure to powerfully expel the enemy warship by firing 10 shells of multiple rocket launchers toward the territorial waters, where naval enemy movement was detected, at 5:15,” the statement continued.
“The KPA opened 10 threatening and warning fires in the direction of 270 degrees of firing azimuth from the area of Ryongyon County at 5:15 on October 24,” it added.
The North Korean military then issued a rhetorical warning to coincide with the latest of a growing list of recent incidents between two neighbors still technically at war since their conflict 70 years ago, one of the first and deadliest of the Cold War still very much active on the peninsula to this day.
“The KPA General Staff once again sends a grave warning to the enemies who made even naval intrusion in the wake of such provocations as the recent artillery firing and loudspeaker broadcasting on the ground front,” the statement concluded.
The new escalation risked opening a new, dangerous chapter for the inter-Korean security climate, which has deteriorated significantly since the unraveling of a historic 2018 peace process that saw both sides come together to forge new agreements, including in the military realm. The talks, featuring various meetings between former U.S. President Donald Trump , former South Korean President Moon Jae-in and current North Korean Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un , failed to produce a lasting peace deal and ultimately gave way to renewed tensions.
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