North Korea has fired a long-range ballistic missile into the sea, 24 hours after threatening an ‘unprecedentedly strong’ response to upcoming military drills by the US and South Korea.
It was the first launch since January 1 and follows last week’s massive military parade where Kim Jong-un oversaw the display of more nuclear missiles than ever before.
Japanese authorities said the latest rocket splashed down in waters inside its exclusive economic zone more than an hour after it was fired – suggesting it was one of Pyongyang’s larger missiles.
PM Fumio Kishida said he is in close communication with Washington and Seoul over the launch, which he called ‘an act of violence that escalates provocation toward the international order’.
Nuclear-armed North Korea fired an unprecedented number of missiles last year.
They included intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) capable of striking anywhere in the United States, while resuming preparations for its first nuclear test since 2017.
The North also conducted a slew of launches it described as simulated nuclear attacks against South Korean and US targets in response to potential threats to the leadership.
In a statement on Friday it 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’.
North Korea has traditionally described US-South Korea military exercises as rehearsals for a potential invasion, while the allies insist that their drills are defensive in nature.
The allies had downsized or cancelled some of their major drills 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 threats have raised the urgency for South Korea and Japan to strengthen their defense postures in line with their alliances with the United States.
South Korea has been seeking reassurances that US will swiftly and decisively use its nuclear capabilities to protect its ally in face of a North Korean nuclear attack.
In addition to expanding and evolving military exercises with South Korea, the United States has also expressed commitment to increase its deployment of strategic military assets like fighter jets and aircraft carriers to the Korean Peninsula in a show of strength.
In December, Japan made a major break from its strictly self-defense-only post-World War II principle, adopting a new national security strategy that includes preemptive strikes and cruise missiles to counter growing threats from North Korea, China and Russia.
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