North Korea fires suspected ballistic missile as its anti-US rhetoric heats up
North Korea on Sunday launched a suspected ballistic missile, the latest in a string of provocative actions that have been denounced by its neighbors as threatening peace in the region.
The missile was launched shortly after 11 a.m. local time, according to Japan’s Ministry of Defense and the South Korean army.
The missile reached a maximum altitude of approximately 50km (31 miles) and flew a distance of approximately 800km (497 miles), according to Japan’s defense ministry. It was fired from the Dongchang-ri area of North Pyongan province in North Korea and landed in the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, according to the South Korean military.
After it landed, the Japan Coast Guard cautioned all vessels to await further information; to not approach fallen objects; and to report anything suspicious.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the military had strengthened surveillance and vigilance in preparation for additional launches “while maintaining a full readiness posture through close cooperation with the US.”
The news follows a flurry of missile tests by North Korea, including the launch of a long-range ballistic missile on Thursday as leaders from South Korea and Japan met in Tokyo, and the firing of two cruise missiles from a submarine and two short-range ballistic missiles days before.
Both the Japanese and South Korean governments strongly condemned Sunday’s missile launch, which they said was a “clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions.”
Pyongyang’s repeated launches “threaten the peace and security of Japan, the region and the international community,” Japan’s defense ministry said in a statement.
Pyongyang’s latest tests coincide with springtime joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea – the biggest war games the allies have staged in five years.
Ahead of the 11-day Freedom Shield exercises, North Korea had threatened to take the “toughest counteraction against the most vicious plots of the US and its followers.”
Sunday’s ballistic missile launch came a day after North Korea claimed about 800,000 of its citizens had volunteered to join or reenlist in the nation’s military to fight against the United States.
The state newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported on Saturday that about 800,000 students and workers across the country had on Friday alone expressed a desire to enlist or reenlist in the military to counter the United States.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has accused the United States and South Korea of increasing tensions with the military drills.
North Korea often responds to what it sees as “provocations” by the US by making bellicose threats. Experts say that in addition to the joint military exercises and the meeting this week between South Korea’s President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japan’s leader Fumio Kishida it has taken exception to US President Joe Biden’s plan to host Yoon and his wife at the White House next month.
The state visit will be the second of Biden’s presidency, underscoring close ties between the US and South Korea, and will take place April 26. The conservative Yoon and his administration have made strengthening the US-South Korea alliance a key foreign policy priority. Biden, likewise, has sought to nurture the relationship, including with the symbolic marker of his trip to Seoul in May 2022, his first stop on his inaugural trip to Asia as president.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul, told CNN recently that in response to the drills and the summits, Pyongyang might “order missile firings of longer ranges, attempt a spy satellite launch, demonstrate a solid-fuel engine, and perhaps even conduct a nuclear test.”