North Korea fired at least one short-range ballistic missile on Sunday, its fourth show of force in a week, as Seoul and Washington conducted joint military exercises, the South Korean military said.
“Our military detected a short-range ballistic missile fired from the Tongchang-ri area in North Pyongan province at 11:05 a.m. (0205 GMT)” toward the Sea of Japan, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JMC) said. The missile traveled 800 kilometers and was being analyzed by US and South Korean intelligence, according to the EMC.
“Our military maintains a fully-ready posture based on its ability to overwhelmingly respond to any provocation from North Korea, while conducting joint exercises and maneuvers,” it added. The United States and South Korea are in the midst of a joint exercise called Freedom Shield, spanning a total of 11 days, the largest in five years.
North Korea calls such drills preparations for an invasion and has warned of an “overwhelming” response. The US Indo-Pacific Military Command condemned the launch, stressing the “destabilizing impact” of the North’s war programme. Japanese Vice Defense Minister Toshiro Ino told reporters that his country “vehemently protested and strongly condemned (North Korea) through our embassy in Beijing.”
– young volunteers –
The launch came a day after the official North Korean media reported that more than 800,000 young people had volunteered for the army to fight “US imperialists.” On Thursday, Pyongyang tested its largest and most powerful intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), the Hwasong-17.
North Korea’s KCNA news agency called the launch of the Hwasong-17 a response to “frantic” exercises by the United States and South Korea. It is the second time so far this year that North Korea has launched an ICBM. Analysts had previously warned that Pyongyang could use the joint exercises as a pretext for more missile launches.
KCNA said on Saturday that the allies’ joint exercises were “approaching the unforgivable red line.” South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol traveled to Japan on Thursday to meet with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida seeking to strengthen relations in the face of growing North Korean aggressiveness. It was the first summit between the rulers of Japan and South Korea in 12 years.
North Korea declared itself an “irreversible” nuclear power last year, and leader Kim Jong Un recently called for an “exponential” increase in weapons production, including tactical nuclear weapons. Kim also ordered the North Korean military to step up its preparation for a “real war.”