North Korea fires a missile into the sea amid US-South Korea exercises

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea launched a short-range ballistic missile toward the sea on Sunday, its neighbors said, stepping up testing activities in response to ongoing testing US-South Korean military exercises which considers it an invasion sample.

The North’s continued missile tests showed its determination not to back down despite US-South Korea exercises, which are the largest of their kind in years. However, many experts say the tests are also part of North Korea’s broader goal of expanding its weapons arsenal, gaining global recognition as a nuclear state, and lifting international sanctions.

US and South Korea conduct exercises while Nord fires submarine test missiles

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

The chief nuclear envoys from South Korea, Japan and the US discussed the launch on the phone and strongly condemned it as a provocation that threatens peace on the Korean peninsula and in the region. They agreed to step up their coordination to provide a resolute international response to the North’s action, according to the Seoul Foreign Ministry.

The South Korean military said it would thoroughly pursue the rest of the joint drills with the US and maintained a readiness to respond “overwhelmingly” to any provocation by North Korea. As part of the exercises, the US on Sunday flew long-range B-1B bombers for joint training with South Korean warplanes, according to the South Korean Defense Ministry.

North Korea is very sensitive to the use of B-1Bs, which can carry an enormous payload of conventional weapons. It responded to B-1B flights in February with test missiles showing potential ranges for attacking some air bases in South Korea.

U.S. Army soldiers wait to board their CH-47 Chinook helicopter during a joint military exercise between South Korea and the United States at the Rodriguez Live Fire Complex in Pocheon, South Korea, Sunday, March 19, 2023. (Ahn Young-joon/AP)

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. He said the missile is likely exhibiting an erratic trajectory, a possible reference to North Korea’s highly maneuverable, nuclear-capable KN-23 missile, which is modeled after Russia’s Iskander missile.

The US Indo-Pacific Command said the recent launch posed no immediate threat to US territory or its allies. But it said the North’s recent launches underscore “the destabilizing effect of its illicit” weapons programs and that the US’s security commitment to South Korea and Japan remain “solid”.

The launch marked the North’s third round of weapons tests since the US and South Korean militaries began joint military exercises last Monday. The drills, which include computer simulations and field exercises, are scheduled to continue through Thursday. The field exercises are the largest of their kind since 2018.

The weapons that North Korea recently tested These include the Hwasong-17 ICBM, which has the longest range to hit the US mainland. Northern state media quoted leader Kim Jong Un as saying the ICBM launch was meant to “instill fear in the enemy.”

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

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

Relations between Seoul and Tokyo have suffered a major setback in recent years due to problems arising from Japan’s 1910-1945 colonial rule in the Korean Peninsula.

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

North Korea has missiles that put Japan within striking distance. Last October, North Korea fired an intermediate-range missile over northern Japan, forcing local communities to issue evacuation warnings and halt trains.

After Sunday’s launch, Kishida ordered an immediate response, including close cooperation with South Korea and the US, according to Ino, Japan’s deputy defense minister.

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

According to South Korean media reports, the US and South Korea are planning further training with a US aircraft carrier later this month after the end of their current drills. This suggests that hostilities on the Korean peninsula could continue for a few more weeks, as North Korea would likely respond to these drills with weapons tests as well.

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

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