North Korea fired new missiles on Friday July 21, while Western countries pointed to China’s troubled role in Pyongyang at the UN. According to the West, Beijing is secretly delivering large quantities of oil to its small neighbor, which is under sanctions over its weapons program.

North Korea fired “several cruise missiles” into the Yellow Sea between China and the Korean peninsula on Saturday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

Saturday’s launches are just the latest in a series by Pyongyang, and come as Seoul and Washington ramp up defence cooperation, with relations between the two Koreas nearing an all-time low.

The cruise missile launches took place around 4 am (1900 GMT) on Saturday, Seoul’s military said.

“South Korean and US intelligence authorities were analysing the launches while monitoring signs of additional activities,” the JCS said.

North Korea had fired two ballistic missiles into the sea off its opposite coast toward Japan just three days earlier.

Diplomacy between Pyongyang and Seoul has stalled, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has called for ramping up weapons development, including tactical nukes.

Western “concerns” about China’s regional behavior

Meanwhile, the Group of Seven nations, the European Union and three other countries have urged China to expel oil tankers from its waters that appear to be taking fuel to North Korea in defiance of UN sanctions, according to a letter seen by AFP on Friday.

“We have concerns regarding the continuing presence of multiple oil tankers… that use your territorial waters in Sansha Bay as refuge to facilitate their trade of sanctioned petroleum products to the DPRK,” read the letter, which was signed by the countries’ ambassadors and addressed to China’s UN envoy Zhang Jun.

In the letter, the ambassadors told Zhang they “would like to provide your government with additional information and satellite imagery” supporting the allegations, while calling on China to deny the vessels “all services, and ultimately expel them from your waters”.

A source said the letter had been sent to the Chinese envoy, though there was no confirmation it had been received.

North Korea has been subject to UN sanctions since 2006 over its missile launches and nuclear programs, with additional sanctions in 2017 limiting its crude oil imports.

Malo Pinatel, with AFP