Laos — On Monday, North Korea decided to intimidate the world leaders reunited for the G20 Summit, which is taking place in Hangzhou, China, by firing off three missiles toward Japan. According to South Korean officials, the missiles landed four hundred kilometers inside the Japanese air defense zone.

This prompted President Barack Obama to vow that he will work with the United Nations to “tighten sanctions against North Korea.” According to Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, North Korea did not warn about the missile launch. The incident occurred while the G20 Summit was being held and days before North Korea celebrates its separation from South Korea. The White House has already condemned the launch.

Obama in Laos, G20 summit
U.S. President Barack Obama at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Summit in Laos, on September 7. Image credit: EFE/Nyein Chan Naing.

“Today’s reckless launches by North Korea pose threats to civil aviation and maritime commerce in the region. North Korea’s continued development of its UN-proscribed nuclear and ballistic missile programs threatens the United States; our allies, Japan and the Republic of Korea; and our partners in the region,” said the White House statement.

Tensions rise between Washington and Pyongyang

On Tuesday, Obama himself spoke, claiming his government would “redouble” its efforts alongside the United Nations and the South Korean President Park Geun-Hye by “tightening loopholes” in the nation’s existing sanctions, with the aim of limiting North Korea access to international technology and currency. Obama also said the launch was a “provocation” for which Pyongyang needs to be held accountable.

So far, the U.S. has almost thirty thousand troops stationed in South Korea. North Korea frequently launches missiles despite the ban it signed against all ballistic missile activity. On August 23, North Korea conducted a new missile launch from a submarine, which fled almost five hundred kilometers, the longest flight recorded for such weapon. At the time, the U.N. Security Council stated all this missile activity was a “grave” violation of the missile ban.

North Korea Missile
North Korea fired three ballistic missiles towards Japan on Monday, September 5. Image credit: AP.

Mending the relationship with Laos

At the time of the launch, Obama was in the capital of Laos, Vientiane, at a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. This makes him the first sitting American president to visit the country. In the peak of the Vietnam War, the U.S. bombed Laos secretly and heavily, making it the most bombed country in the world.

Between 1964 and 1973 the U.S. dropped eight bombs per minute in the country, which at the end made up for 260 million bombs in almost six hundred thousand bomb missions. Most of these bombs were anti-personnel cluster munitions. Around thirty percent of those bombs never exploded, making Laos “severely contaminated” by unexploded devices.

Obama announced that ninety million dollars would be invested in the course of three years to “clean up” the areas that are full of cluster bombs. He also stated that the U.S. has the “moral obligation” to do so. Experts agree that over 288 million cluster ammunition and seventy-five million bombs are still on the nation’s soil. Every year, a handful of Laotians are maimed or killed in encounters with these unexploded devices.

Source: BBC