North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile on Sunday, Seoul’s military said, the fourth show of force in a week as South Korea and the United States hold large military exercises.
Seoul and Washington have stepped up defense cooperation in the face of growing military and nuclear threats from the North, which has conducted a series of increasingly provocative banned weapons tests in recent months.
South Korea and the United States are in the midst of an 11-day joint exercise, known as Freedom Shield, the largest in five years.
North Korea views all such drills as rehearsals for invasion and has repeatedly warned that it will take “forceful” action in response.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said, “Our military detected a short-range ballistic missile fired at 11:05 a.m. (0205 GMT) from the Tongchang-ri area in North Pyongan province toward the East Sea.” The body of water is also called the Sea of Japan.
The missile traveled 800 kilometers (500 miles) and was analyzed by US and South Korean intelligence, the JCS said in a statement, calling the launch “a serious provocation” that violated UN sanctions.
“Our military will maintain a solid readiness posture based on its ability to respond forcefully to any provocation by North Korea while conducting intensive and thorough joint exercises and drills,” the statement said.
Tokyo also confirmed the launch, with Vice Defense Minister Toshiro Inoue telling reporters that Japan “registered a strong protest and strong condemnation to (North Korea) through our embassy in Beijing”.
The US military’s Indo-Pacific Command condemned the launch, saying it exposed the “destabilizing effect” of North Korea’s banned weapons programs.
South Korea’s Defense Ministry said hours after the launch that it had conducted joint aerial exercises with the United States with at least one US B-1B long-range bomber.
The exercise also involved South Korean F-35A stealth fighter jets and US F-16 fighters and took place as part of the Freedom Shield exercise. In a statement, the ministry said the exercise has “significantly enhanced the interoperability … and wartime capabilities of the allies”.
– ‘Battle Mania’ –
The latest launch came a day after North Korean state media reported that more than 800,000 North Korean youths had volunteered to join the military to fight “US imperialists”.
The Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said that the young volunteers were determined to “mercilessly wipe out war hysteria” and joined the army to “defend the country”.
Pyongyang on Thursday tested its largest and most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile, the Hwasong-17, its second ICBM test this year. It described the launch as a response to “frantic” US-South Korea exercises.
The UN Security Council is expected to hold an emergency meeting on Monday over the ICBM launch at the request of the United States and Japan, Yonhap news agency reported.
In a statement carried by KCNA on Sunday, the North’s foreign ministry “firmly” warned the US and other countries to include “the DPRK’s legitimate self-defensive countermeasures to UNSC discussions”. DPRK is an abbreviation for the official name of North Korea.
Analysts previously said North Korea would use the exercise as a pretext to launch more missiles and perhaps conduct nuclear tests.
The ICBM launch was followed by two short-range ballistic missiles on Tuesday and two strategic cruise missiles fired from a submarine last Sunday.
Recent aggression by Pyongyang has prompted Seoul and Tokyo to try to mend fences over historic disputes and boost security cooperation.
Just hours after the ICBM was fired Thursday, South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol arrived in Japan for the first full-scale leaders’ summit between the countries in 12 years.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said the recent missile launches had several purposes, including opposing joint exercises as well as testing trilateral responses from South Korea, the United States and Japan .
North Korea last year declared itself an “irreversible” nuclear power and leader Kim Jong Un recently called for an “exponential” increase in weapons production, including tactical nuclear weapons.
Kim also this month ordered the North Korean military to intensify drills in preparation for a “real war”.
(This story has not been edited by NDTV staff and was auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)