North Korea said Friday it fired an intercontinental ballistic missile to «instill fear in enemies,» while South Korea and Japan agreed at a summit to work closely on regional security with the United States and hosted military exercises in the region.
The missile, launched Thursday from North Korea’s main airport as leader Kim Jong Un and his daughter smiled from afar, overshadowed a summit between South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister hours later. , Fumio Kishida. The meeting in Tokyo was aimed in part at rebuilding security ties between America’s often estranged allies in the face of nuclear threats from North Korea.
With four missile displays in about a week, North Korea has intensified its tit-for-tat response to ongoing US-South Korean military exercises that are the largest of their kind in years.
The Biden administration wants to improve ties between South Korea and Japan, which have declined due to historical problems in recent years, while pushing to strengthen its network of alliances in Asia to counter the nuclear threat from North Korea and the growing influence of China. .
In addition to their combined exercises that began on Monday and will run through March 23, the United States and South Korea are also participating in anti-submarine warfare exercises, along with Japan, Canada and India, which began on Wednesday.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim supervised the test launch of the Hwasong-17 missile, which took off from a launch vehicle parked on an airport runway. Kim stressed the need to «instill fear in enemies» over what he called the «open hostility» shown to the North by the US and South Korean exercises.
Launched at a high angle to avoid the territory of North Korea’s neighbors, the missile reached a maximum altitude of 3,756 miles and traveled 621 miles before landing in waters off the country’s east coast, KCNA said.
The South Korean and Japanese militaries similarly assessed the flight, indicating that the continental United States is within range of the missile. It is not clear whether North Korea has developed nuclear bombs small enough to fit on its long-range rockets or the technology to ensure that its warheads survive re-entry into the atmosphere when fired on a normal trajectory.
State television showed the launch at various angles, including footage from a video camera apparently mounted on the body of the missile that provided an aerial view of the rocket flying from the surface, amid bright orange flames, before its camera bottom detached in what appeared to be a separation of stages.
Pyongyang official Rodong Sinmun also posted still photos that were allegedly taken by a camera on the missile as it soared into space. They showed a rounded view of Earth, with scattered clouds over what appeared to be the Korean Peninsula and the Asian coastline.
Kim was accompanied by his daughter, who is believed to be named Kim Ju Ae and is around 10 years old. She has accompanied him to various military events since he first revealed himself publicly during the launch of another ICBM in November. Analysts say her public appearances at military events are intended to link the Kim family’s dynastic rule to the nuclear arsenal that Kim sees as the best guarantee of his survival.
The high-altitude photos were apparently intended to prove that the missile would be able to accurately hit its target, said Cheong Seong-Chang, a senior analyst at South Korea’s private Sejong Institute.
While all of North Korea’s ICBM tests have been conducted at a high angle, Cheong said the North is likely closer to launching one of those missiles at an angle closer to the normal ballistic trajectory through of the Pacific Ocean, in what would be one of their most provocative weapons demonstrations ever.
KCNA said the ICBM launch sends a «stronger warning» to North Korea’s rivals who are ratcheting up tensions with their «frantic, provocative and aggressive large-scale war games.» The test was also designed to confirm the reliability of the weapon system, KCNA said.
Kim said it was crucial for North Korea’s nuclear missile forces to stand ready to counterattack the rivals with «overwhelming offensive measures at any time» and make them realize that their persistent and expanded military actions «will bring a serious and irreversible for them,» KCNA said.
Lee Hyojung, spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said it is deeply regrettable that the North continues to use US-South Korean military exercises as an excuse for provocative military demonstrations.
«It is clear that North Korea’s reckless nuclear and missile development is the cause of escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula,» he said, urging Pyongyang to return to dialogue.
Speaking at a conference in Singapore on Thursday, the head of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Admiral John Aquilino, said China has a role to play in the world if it adheres to the rules-based order, especially as regards As regards North Korea, which depends on Beijing. as its main ally and economic lifeline.
North Korea’s accelerated weapons development, underscored by the dozens of missiles it tested last year, poses a growing threat to South Korea and Japan, and the country has also «developed the capabilities to threaten the United States as well.» Aquilino said. .
“It is destabilizing, it is unpredictable, it continues, it is not slowing down. The PRC’s potential to help deter the DPRK from running these events would be helpful,» Aquilino said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name.
North Korea has long portrayed US and South Korean military exercises as rehearsals for an invasion, though the allies describe those exercises as defensive.
Many experts say North Korea is using its rivals’ exercises as a pretext to aggressively expand its nuclear arsenal and overall military capability.
Since last week, North Korea has also tested cruise missiles from a submarine and fired short-range missiles into the sea, trying to show that it could carry out possible nuclear strikes against both South Korean targets and the mainland United States.
Thursday’s launch was North Korea’s second of an intercontinental ballistic missile this year. The Hwasong-15 released in February is a slightly smaller weapon than the Hwasong-17.
At the Yoon-Kishida summit, the leaders agreed to resume defense dialogue and further strengthen security cooperation with the United States to deal with North Korea and other challenges.
«The growing threat from North Korea’s nuclear missile program poses a huge threat to peace and stability not only in East Asia but also to the (broader) international community,» Yoon said. «South Korea and Japan must work closely together and in solidarity to wisely counter the threat.»