By Hyunsu Yim and Kantaro Komiya
SEOUL/TOKYO (Reuters) – North Korea fired a long-range missile off the east coast on Wednesday, South Korea’s military said, barely a month after Pyongyang’s last launch and its twelfth this year.
The launch came after heated complaints from North Korea in recent days accusing US spy planes of violating airspace in its economic zones and condemning a recent visit to South Korea by a US nuclear-powered submarine carrying cruise missiles.
The Japan Coast Guard said what was believed to be a ballistic missile appeared to have landed in mid-morning. It had previously predicted that the missile would fall outside Japan’s EEZ and about 550 km (340 mi) east of the Korean Peninsula.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is in Lithuania to attend the NATO summit, has ordered his staff to gather intelligence and remain alert to prepare for any unforeseen events, the prime minister’s office said.
Kishida is expected to meet South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on the sidelines of the NATO meeting, and Japanese cabinet chief Hirokazu Matsuno said a summit with South Korea, Australia and New Zealand is also planned.
Matsuno also told a news conference that the launch posed a threat to peace and stability in both the region and the international community, and that Japan had protested through diplomatic channels in Beijing.
This year, North Korea tested its first-ever intercontinental solid-fuel ballistic missile (ICBM) and made a failed attempt to launch its first-ever spy satellite on a new launch vehicle. United Nations Security Council resolutions prohibit North Korea’s use of ballistic missile technology, including for satellite launches.
The Security Council and a number of countries have imposed sanctions on North Korea over its missile and nuclear weapons programs.
Analysts say commercial satellite images show North Korea is expected to display military force, including a large parade, ahead of an upcoming holiday on July 27, commemorating its claim to victory in the 1950-1953 Korean War against the United States. States, South Korea, and their allies.
Kim Yo Jong, leader Kim Jong-un’s powerful sister, on Tuesday accused a US military spy plane of entering the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone eight times, state media KCNA reported.
“Kim Yo Jong’s bellicose statement to U.S. surveillance planes is part of a North Korean pattern of blowing up external threats to rally domestic support and justify weapons testing,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international studies at Ewha Womans. University in Seoul.
“Pyongyang is also timing its show of force to disrupt what it sees as diplomatic coordination against the country, in this case the leaders of South Korea and Japan meeting at the NATO summit.”
(Reporting by agencies in Tokyo and Seoul; written by Elaine Lies; edited by Tom Hogue and Lincoln Feast)