North Korea early Friday launched a short-range ballistic missile toward its eastern waters and flew warplanes near the border with South Korea, further raising animosities triggered by the North’s recent barrage of weapons tests.
South Korea’s military also said it detected North Korea firing about 170 rounds of artillery from eastern and western coastal areas near the border region and that the shells fell inside maritime buffer zones the Koreas established under a 2018 military agreement on reducing tensions.
The North Korean moves suggest it would keep up a provocative run of weapons tests designed to bolster its nuclear capability for now. Some experts say North Korea would eventually want the United States and others to accept it as a nuclear state, lifting economic sanctions and making other concessions.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement the missile lifted off from the North’s capital region at 1:49 a.m. Friday (12:49 p.m. EDT Thursday).
While none of the North Korean artillery shells fell inside South Korean territorial waters, the Joint Chiefs of Staff described the firings as a clear violation of the 2018 agreement, which created buffer zones along land and sea boundaries and no-fly zones above the border to prevent clashes.
Friday’s ballistic launch extended a record number of missile demonstrations by North Korea this year as it exploits the distraction created by Russia’s war on Ukraine to accelerate its arms development and increase pressure on Washington and its Asian allies.
In response to North Korea’s intensifying testing activity and hostility, South Korea on Friday imposed unilateral sanctions on the North for the first time in five years, targeting 15 North Korean individuals and 16 organizations suspected of involvement in illicit activities to finance North Korea’s nuclear weapons and missile program.
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the missile flew on an “irregular” trajectory — a possible reference to describe the North’s highly maneuverable KN-23 weapon modeled on Russia’s Iskander missile.
“Whatever the intentions are, North Korea’s repeated ballistic missile launches are absolutely impermissible and we cannot overlook its substantial advancement of missile technology,” Hamada said. “North Korea’s series of actions pose threats to Japan, as well as the region and the international community, and are absolutely intolerable.”
The South Korean and Japanese militaries assessed that the missile traveled 403-434 miles at a maximum altitude of 30 miles before landing in waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement the North Korean launch didn’t pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory, or to its allies, adding that the U.S. commitments to the defense of South Korea and Japan remain “ironclad.”
It was the latest in a series of missile launches by North Korea in recent weeks.
North Korea said Monday that its missile tests in the past two weeks simulated nuclear attacks on key South Korean and U.S. targets. It said the tests included a new intermediate-range missile that flew over Japan and demonstrated a potential range to reach the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam, and a ballistic missile fired from an inland reservoir, a first for the country.
North Korea said the weapons tests were meant to issue a warning to Seoul and Washington for staging “dangerous” joint naval exercises involving a U.S. aircraft carrier.
Friday’s launch was the North’s second since its announcement on the simulation of nuclear strikes. Some observers had predicted North Korea would likely temporarily pause its testing activities in consideration of its major ally China, which is set to begin a major political conference Sunday to give President Xi Jinping a third five-year term as party leader.