During a visit to the inter-Korean border on Thursday, US Vice President Kamala Harris said North Korea is a country with a “brutal regime,” an illicit armaments program, and endemic human rights violations.
North Korea launched two ballistic missiles from north of its capital, Pyongyang, late Thursday in the direction of Harris’ flight from South Korea, the third such launch in five days.
Harris, in her first visit to the Demilitarised Zone (DMZ) separating the two Koreas, said the heavily armed border area offered a stark reminder of the “dramatically different paths” the two sides have taken.
“In the North, we see a brutal dictatorship, rampant human rights violations and an unlawful weapons program that threatens peace and stability,” Harris said.
“The United States and the world seek a stable and peaceful Korean peninsula where the DPRK is no longer a threat,” she said, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Harris was in the DMZ after arriving in the South Korean capital, Seoul, early on Thursday amid simmering regional tension over North Korea’s missile launches and China’s actions in the Taiwan Strait.
North Korea launched two ballistic missiles from north of Pyongyang into the sea off its east coast, South Korea’s military said, about two hours after Harris’ flight departed for Washington.
The missiles flew about 300 km (186.4 miles) reaching a maximum altitude of 50 km (31 miles), Japan’s Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said, indicating they were likely short-range ballistic missiles (SRBM).
The visit by Harris came amid fears that North Korea is about to conduct a nuclear test. South Korean officials say North Korea has completed preparations for what would be its seventh nuclear test and its first since 2017.
Harris and South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol held talks and condemned North Korea’s intensifying nuclear rhetoric and a series of missile tests, the latest of which was conducted on Wednesday.
“They condemned the DPRK’s provocative nuclear rhetoric and ballistic missile launches,” a White House statement said. “They discussed our response to potential future provocations, including through trilateral cooperation with Japan.”
Harris and Yoon reaffirmed the goal of the complete denuclearisation of the Korean peninsula, the White House said.
Harris also reaffirmed a U.S.-extended deterrence commitment to its Asian ally, including “the full range of U.S. defence capabilities”, it added.
Yoon’s office said that if the North pushed ahead with serious provocations like a nuclear test, he and Harris agreed to immediately implement “jointly prepared countermeasures,” without elaborating.
Early this month, North Korea defined its ability to conduct pre-emptive nuclear attacks in a new legislation. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has stated that the country is building nuclear weapons and missiles to counter US threats.
On Taiwan, Harris emphasized that efforts to maintain peace and stability across the Taiwan Strait were a “important component of a free and open Indo-Pacific,” according to the White House.
U.S. President Joe Biden’s advisors have been establishing connections in the area to handle China, notably over Taiwan.
However, Yoon told CNN in an interview aired on Sunday that North Korea would be more likely to launch a provocation in a fight over Taiwan, and that Seoul and Washington should prioritize that worry first.