Seoul: North Korea on Saturday fired a long-range ballistic missile from its capital into the sea off Japan which landed within Japan’s territory.
Japanese government spokesperson Hirokazu Matsuno said no damage was reported from the missile, which landed within Japan’s exclusive economic zone, about 200 kilometers (125 miles) west of Oshima island.
According to the South Korean and Japanese militaries, the missile was fired on a high angle, apparently to avoid reaching the neighbours’ territories, and travelled about 900 kilometers (560 miles) at a maximum altitude of 5,700 kilometers (3,500 miles) during an hourlong flight.
The details were similar to North Korea’s Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile test flight in November, which experts said demonstrated potential to reach the US mainland if fired on a normal trajectory.
North Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Friday threatened with “unprecedently” strong action against its rivals, after South Korea announced a series of military exercises with the United States aimed at sharpening their response to the North’s growing threats.
While the US Indo-Pacific Command said the launch did not pose an immediate threat to US personnel, territory, or its allies, the White House National Security Council said it needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region.
“It only demonstrates that the DPRK continues to prioritise its unlawful weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programmes over the well-being of its people,” it said, calling it a “flagrant violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions.”
The office of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said his national security director, Kim Sung-han, presided over an emergency security meeting that accused the North of escalating regional tensions.
It denounced North Korea for accelerating its nuclear arms development despite signs of worsening economic problems and food insecurity, saying such actions would bring only tougher international sanctions.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tokyo was closely communicating with Washington and Seoul over the launch, which he called “an act of violence that escalates provocation toward the international order.”
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, where 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 continuation of expansion of his country’s military capabilities despite limited resources while negotiations with Washington remain stalemated. 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 Hwasong-17s, use liquid propellants that require pre-launch injections and cannot remain fuelled for prolonged periods.
A solid-fuel alternative would take less time to prepare and is easier to move around on vehicles, providing less opportunity to be spotted. It wasn’t immediately clear whether Saturday’s launch involved a solid-fuel system.
“North Korean missile firings are often tests of technologies under development, and it will be notable if Pyongyang claims progress with a long-range solid-fuel missile,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a 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 in weapons demonstrations with more than 70 ballistic missiles fired, including those with potential to reach the US mainland.
The North also conducted a slew of launches it described as simulated nuclear attacks against South Korean and US targets in response to the allies’ resumption of large-scale joint military exercise that had been downsized for years.
North Korea’s missile tests have been punctuated by threats of preemptive nuclear attacks against South Korea or the United States over what it perceives as a broad range of scenarios that put its leadership under threat.
The North Korean statement on Friday accused Washington and Seoul of planning more than 20 rounds of military drills this year, including large-scale field exercises, and described its rivals as “the arch-criminals deliberately disrupting regional peace and stability.”
South Korea’s Defence Ministry officials told lawmakers earlier that Seoul and Washington will hold an annual computer-simulated combined training in mid-March.
The 11-day training will reflect North Korea’s nuclear threats, as well as unspecified lessons from the Russia-Ukraine war, according to Heo Tae-keun, South Korea’s deputy minister of national defence policy.
South Korea and the US will also hold a one-day tabletop exercise next week at the Pentagon to sharpen a response to a potential use of nuclear weapons by North Korea. South Korea is seeking assurances that the United States will quickly and decisively use its nuclear capabilities to counter a North Korean nuclear attack.
In expanding its military exercises with South Korea, the United States has also committed to increasing the deployment of strategic military assets such as fighter jets and aircraft carriers to the Korean Peninsula in a show of strength.
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