The United States military has launched an intensive spying operation over North Korea, amid reports that the isolated totalitarian state may be about to test fire short range missiles close to its disputed sea border with South Korea.
A U.S. military spokesman confirmed that unspecified monitoring “assets” – probably including spy satellites and high altitude spy planes – have been moved into position amid reports of imminent missile launches, after unusual movements by shipping in the area.
South Korean officials confirmed the sudden disappearance of Chinese fishing boats from an area off the north-west coast of the Korean peninsula, possibly because of a shipping warning in advance of missile firing exercises.
North Korea regularly test fires such short range ship-to-ship missiles which do not, in themselves, pose an immediate threat to its neighbours. But the timing of such a test this week would be provocative, coming as it does after Pyongyang renounced military agreements with the South, and just before Hillary Clinton’s first visit to Asia as U.S. secretary of state.
“We're watching those things closely with all the assets we have,” Marine Major Bradley Gordon, a spokesman for the US Pacific Command, said. “We've got all sorts of sensors all around the area. But I won't say what or where they are.”
Mrs Clinton told the government of North Korea that its recent threats and military posturing are “unacceptable”, and promised to discuss the problem with the leaders of Japan, South Korea, Indonesia and China when she visits them next week on her inaugural overseas trip.