HomeTop StoriesNorth Korea launches missile into sea amid US-S. Korea drills

North Korea launches missile into sea amid US-S. Korea drills

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Sunday launched a short-range ballistic missile towards the sea, its neighbors said, stepping up testing activities in response to US and South Korean military exercises it considers an invasion rehearsal.

The North’s continued missile tests showed its determination not to back down, despite US-South Korea exercises, the largest of their kind in years. But many experts say the tests were also part of a larger goal to expand the weapons arsenal, gain international recognition as a nuclear state and lift international sanctions.

Launched from the northwestern Tongchangri area in the north, the missile flew across the country before landing in waters off the east coast, according to South Korean and Japanese assessments. They said the missile traveled a distance of about 800 kilometers (500 mi), a range that suggests the weapon could target South Korea.

The South Korean military said repeated ballistic missile tests in the north are “a serious provocation” undermining peace on the Korean peninsula. It said it will continue planned joint exercises with the United States and remains ready to respond “overwhelmingly” to any provocation from North Korea.

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Japanese Deputy Defense Minister Toshiro Ino said the missile landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone and there were no reports of damage to ships or aircraft in the area. He called the launch “a threat” to the security of Japan, the region and the international community that “absolutely cannot be tolerated”.

He said the missile probably had an erratic trajectory. This could be a reference to North Korea’s highly maneuverable nuclear-powered missile KN-23, which was modeled after Russia’s Iskander missile.

The US Indo-Pacific Command said the latest launch poses no immediate threat to US territory or its allies. But it said the North’s recent launches highlight “the destabilizing impact of its illegitimate” weapons programs and that the US security commitment to South Korea and Japan remains “unsafe”.

The launch was the third round of weapons tests in the North since the US and South Korean armies began joint military exercises Monday.

Final US and South Korean exercises, including computer simulations and field exercises, continue through Thursday. The field exercises are the largest of their kind since 2018.

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The weapons North Korea has recently tested include the Hwasong-17 longest-range intercontinental ballistic missile, designed to hit the US mainland. Nordic state media quoted leader Kim Jong-un as saying that the ICBM launch was to “terrify the enemies”.

Thursday’s launch, the North’s first ICBM fire in a month, drew strong protests from Seoul, Tokyo and Washington as it was carried out just hours before South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol flew to Tokyo for a closely watched summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida.

At the summit, Yoon and Kishida agreed to resume their defense dialogue and further strengthen security cooperation with the United States to counter North Korea and address other challenges.

Seoul-Tokyo ties suffered a major setback in recent years due to problems arising from the Japanese colonial rule of the Korean peninsula in 1910-1945.

But North Korea’s record run of missile tests last year — it launched more than 70 missiles in 2022 alone — prompted Seoul and Tokyo to seek stronger trilateral security partnerships with Washington, which also wants to strengthen its alliances in Asia to better deal with the rise and North Korean nuclear threats.

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North Korea has missiles that put Japan at very close range. Last October, North Korea fired a medium-range ballistic missile over northern Japan, forcing communities there to issue evacuation warnings and stop trains.

After Sunday’s launch, Kishida ordered a rapid response, including working closely with South Korea and the US, said Ino, Japan’s deputy defense minister.

A day before the start of the exercises, North Korea also fired cruise missiles from a submarine. The North’s state media said the submarine-launched missile was a demonstration of its determination to respond with “overwhelmingly powerful” force to increasing military maneuvers by “the US imperialists and South Korean puppet forces”.

According to South Korean media reports, the US and South Korea are planning more training with a US aircraft carrier later this month after their current exercises have ended. This suggests that hostility on the Korean Peninsula could last for a few more weeks, as North Korea would likely respond to those exercises with weapons tests as well.


Associated Press writer Yuri Kageyama in Tokyo contributed to this report.

Originally published

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