North Korea on Saturday fired a long-range missile from its capital into the sea beyond Japanese, according to its neighbours, a day after it threatened to take strong action against South Korea and that USA over their joint military exercises.
According to the South Korean and Japanese militaries, the missile was fired at a high angle, apparently to avoid reaching neighboring territories, and traveled about 900 kilometers (560 miles) at a maximum altitude of 5,700 kilometers (3,500 miles) over an hour-long duration. flight.
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The details were similar to North Korea’s Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile test flight in November, which experts said showed the potential to reach the US mainland if launched on a normal trajectory.
Japanese government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno said no injuries were reported from the missile, which landed inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, about 200 kilometers west of the island of Oshima. Oshima is located off the west coast of the northernmost main island of Hokkaido.
North Korea’s foreign ministry on Friday threatened “unprecedented” forceful action against its rivals, after South Korea announced a series of military exercises with the United States aimed at sharpening its response to the North’s growing threat.
While the US Indo-Pacific Command said the launch does not pose an immediate threat to US personnel, territory or its allies, the White House National Security Council said it unnecessarily raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region.
“It only shows that North Korea continues to prioritize its illegal weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs over the well-being of its people,” it said, calling it a “flagrant violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.”
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s office said his national security chief, Kim Sung-han, led an emergency security meeting that accused the North of escalating regional tensions. It condemned North Korea for accelerating its nuclear weapons development despite signs of worsening economic problems and food insecurity, saying such moves would only lead to tougher international sanctions.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tokyo is in close communication with Washington and Seoul regarding the launch, which he called “an act of violence that escalates provocation against the international order.”
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The launch was North Korea’s first since January 1, when it test-fired a short-range weapon. It followed a massive military parade in Pyongyang last week, in which troops rolled out more than a dozen ICBMs as leader Kim Jong Un watched in delight from a balcony.
The unprecedented number of missiles underscored a continued expansion of his country’s military capabilities despite limited resources while negotiations with Washington remain stalled.
Those missiles included a new system experts say is possibly linked to the North’s stated desire to acquire a solid-fuel ICBM. North Korea’s existing ICBMs, including the Hwasong-17, use liquid propellants that require injections before launch and cannot remain fueled for extended periods. A solid fuel alternative would take less time to prepare and is easier to move around on vehicles, giving less chance of detection.
It was not immediately clear whether Saturday’s launch involved a solid fuel system.
“North Korean missile launches are often tests of technology under development, and it will be notable if Pyongyang claims progress with a long-range solid-fuel missile,” said Leif-Eric Easley, professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul. “The Kim regime may also tout this launch as a response to US defense cooperation with South Korea and sanctions diplomacy at the United Nations.”
North Korea is coming off a record year of weapons demonstrations with more than 70 ballistic missiles fired, including those with the potential to reach the US mainland. The North also carried out a series of launches it described as simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and US targets in response to the allies’ resumption of large-scale joint military exercises that had been scaled back for years.
North Korea’s missile tests have been punctuated by threats of pre-emptive nuclear strikes against South Korea or the United States over what it perceives as a wide range of scenarios that threaten its leadership.
Kim doubled his nuclear effort ahead of 2023, calling for an “exponential increase” in the country’s nuclear warheads, mass production of battlefield tactical nuclear weapons aimed at “enemy” South Korea and development of more advanced ICBMs.
The North Korean statement on Friday accused Washington and Seoul of planning more than 20 rounds of military exercises this year, including large-scale field exercises, and described its rivals as “the arch-criminals who deliberately disrupt regional peace and stability.”
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South Korean Defense Ministry officials previously told lawmakers that Seoul and Washington will hold an annual computer-simulated combined training exercise in mid-March. The 11-day training will reflect North Korea’s nuclear threat, as well as unspecified lessons from the Russia-Ukraine war, according to Heo Tae-keun, South Korea’s deputy minister for national defense policy. Heo said the countries will also conduct joint field exercises in mid-March that would be larger than those held in recent years.
South Korea and the United States will also hold a one-day table-top exercise next week at the Pentagon to sharpen a response to a potential use of nuclear weapons by North Korea.
North Korea has traditionally described military exercises between the US and South Korea as rehearsals for a potential invasion, while the allies insist their drills are defensive in nature.
The US and South Korea had scaled back or canceled some of their major exercises in recent years, first to support the former Trump administration’s diplomatic efforts with Pyongyang and then because of COVID-19. But North Korea’s growing nuclear threat has increased the urgency for South Korea and Japan to strengthen their defense postures in line with their alliances with the United States.
South Korea has sought assurances that the United States will quickly and decisively use its nuclear assets to protect its ally in the face of a North Korean nuclear attack. By expanding its military exercises with South Korea, the United States has also expressed commitment to increase its deployment of strategic military assets such as fighter jets and aircraft carriers to the Korean Peninsula in one force.
In December, Japan made a major break from its strict post-World War II self-defense policy, adopting a new national security strategy that includes pre-emptive strikes and cruise missiles to counter growing threats from North Korea, China and Russia.
Associated Press writer Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to the report.