North and South Korea exchanged hundreds of artillery shells across their western sea border on Monday. Earlier on Monday, North Korea announced it would be conducting military exercises such as live-fire drills in seven areas north of the maritime boundary. They also hinted at conducting a nuclear test “aimed at strengthening our nuclear deterrence.”
For more than three hours, North Korea fired 500 shells into the Yellow Sea, around a hundred of which strayed across the border into South Korea. The South Koreans responded by firing around 300 shells past the boundary into the sea and sending fighter jets along the Northern Limit Line.
Kim Min-seok, a spokesman for the South Korean Ministry of Defense said that they did not exactly shoot at North Korea but instead fired into the sea. No shells from either nation were fired on land. Kim believes the artillery firing by the North is a provocation to test the South’s security posture.
It was the first time North Korea informed the South of live-firing exercises above the maritime Northern Limit Line. South Korea’s Defense Ministry vice spokesman Wee Yong-Sub said that they consider the announcement as “a hostile threat” so they activated their crisis management operations to prepare themselves for a possible military provocation by the North.
The unusual announcement was interpreted by analysts to be a political move. According to Korea analyst Victor Cha, North Korea may be waving at Washington for attention to bring the U.S. government back to discussing its nuclear program, or trying to “change the playing field and slant it in their direction” while the U.S. government is focused on other issues.
The United States, one of South Korea’s most formidable allies, condemned the shelling and called on North Korea to cease activities that “threaten regional peace and security.”
China, North Korea’s primary supporter, nonetheless expressed concern. According to spokesman Hong Lei of the Foreign Ministry, “The temperature is rising” on their neighboring region and is a cause of worry. They are hoping that “all sides can remain calm and exercise restraint.”
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