Pyongyang Tests Ballistic Missile as Cambodian Prime Minister Visits Seoul

This picture taken on May 17, 2024 and released from North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) on May 18, 2024 shows a test fire of a tactical ballistic missile into which a new autonomous navigation system is introduced in the East Sea of Korea, at an undisclosed location in North Korea. KCNA/AFP

PHNOM PENH — North Korea reportedly launched an unspecified ballistic missile toward the East Sea on May 17, reported the Yonhap News Agency, citing the South Korean military. This launch occurred while Prime Minister Hun Manet was in Seoul.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff refrained from disclosing further details, stating that an analysis of the event was underway, according to Yonhap. The missile launch followed a previous incident on April 22, which involved North Korea firing into the East Sea 600-mm super-large shells believed to be short-range ballistic missiles, the news agency reported.

This launch coincided with an official visit of Prime Minister Hun Manet to Seoul for a summit meeting with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol. Hun Manet arrived in South Korea on May 15 for a visit set to end on May 18.

This is the first official visit of Hun Manet to that country since coming to power in August 2023.

During the summit, the two leaders elevated ties between Cambodia and South Korea to a strategic level. They also emphasized the importance of North Korea adhering to the United Nations resolutions.

“Both sides called on the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) to abide by all relevant U.N. Security Council Resolutions and stressed the importance of peaceful dialogue to realize lasting peace and stability in the Korean Peninsula,” they said in a joint statement. “To this end, the Cambodian side welcomed the [South Korea’s] Audacious Initiative, which aims to achieve a denuclearized, peaceful and prosperous Korean Peninsula that contributes to peace, stability, and prosperity in the region.”

The timing of these events underscores the ongoing tension in the region and the diplomatic efforts to address the issues.

According to Seun Sam, a policy analyst at the Royal Academy of Cambodia, North Korea’s ballistic missile testing is not new. This frequently happens, he said, adding that the regime tested missiles while Cambodia was hosting the ASEAN summit in 2022.

Cambodia had condemned Pyongyang for its aggressiveness at the time, Seun said. “North Korea disregards U.N. resolutions and even recommendations from its allies if they don't suit its interests,” he said. “Its recent nuclear testing is just another predictable move.”

Ek Bunly, a research fellow at the Cambodia Center for Regional Studies, said that the joint statement released by Cambodia and South Korea signaled that Cambodia is ready to cooperate with South Korea, and this, not just in transactional relations as in the past, but also in sensitive areas such as security.

“This statement is also a signal to Pyongyang that its adventuristic approach in the missile and nuclear program is not in line with the Cambodian government, and it could jeopardize Phnom Penh-Pyongyang relations in the long run,” Bunly said.

Seng Vanly, an international relations observer in the Asia Pacific region, said that North Korea’s recent missile testing will only further deteriorate its relations with former allies such as Cambodia.

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