Seoul: North Korea launches ballistic missile toward sea

North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan on Thursday, prompting Japan to order residents on the island to take shelter as a precaution.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North Korean missile flew toward the waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan, but gave no further details, such as how far it traveled or what type of weapon North Korea fired. Japan said the missile did not land in the sea, but did not immediately elaborate.

Earlier, the launch prompted the Japanese government to urge people to seek shelter on the northernmost island of Hokkaido. Japanese media subsequently reported that the Japanese government withdrew its alert and emergency notification to local governments, saying there was no possibility of missiles falling on the Hokkaido area.

The launch was the latest in a series of weapons tests North Korea has conducted this year. Days after its leader Kim Jong Un vowed to beef up his nuclear arsenal In a more “utility and offensive” way.

Japan issued a similar evacuation order in October last year when a North Korean medium-range missile flew over Japan in a launch that indicated the possibility of reaching the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam. At the time, Japanese authorities warned residents in its northeast to seek shelter and stopped the train, although no damage was reported before the weapons landed in the Pacific.

North Korea has fired about 30 missiles in response this year South Korea-US military exercise It sees this as a preview of an invasion. South Korean and U.S. officials said their drills were defensive in nature and aimed at countering North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats.

At a military meeting on Monday, Kim Jong-un reviewed the country’s front-line attack plans and various operational documents, stressing the need to speed up “in a more practical and aggressive manner,” according to North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency. to strengthen his nuclear deterrent.

KCNA said the meeting discussed unspecified issues related to strengthening defense capabilities and improving war readiness to deal with threats posed by its rivals’ military drills.

North Korea has long argued that U.S.-led military drills in the region are evidence of Washington’s hostility toward Pyongyang. North Korea has said it is being forced to develop nuclear weapons in response to U.S. military threats, but U.S. and South Korean officials have firmly said they have no intention of invading North Korea.

Since unveiling a new nuclear warhead earlier this month, there have been concerns that North Korea could conduct its first nuclear test in more than five years. Foreign experts debate whether North Korea has developed warhead Small and light enough to be mounted on missiles.

Thursday’s launch also came as South Korea accused North Korea of ​​failing to respond to South Korean calls through a series of cross-border inter-Korean hotlines for about a week. North Korea’s alleged suspension of the exchange of information on communications channels could be worrisome, as one of the functions of the hotline is to prevent accidental clashes along the rivals’ disputed western maritime border.

Earlier this week, Seoul’s central figure on North Korea, South Korea’s Unification Minister Kwon Young-se, expressed “strong regret” over North Korea’s “unilateral and irresponsible attitude” on the hotline. Kwon also warned of unspecified legal action if North Korea uses South Korean assets in its now-stalled inter-Korean factory complex.

In 2016, South Korea pulled its companies out of Kaesong, North Korea, after North Korea conducted a nuclear test, eliminating the last major remaining sign of cooperation between the two rivals. North Korean state media recently showed what appeared to be South Korean commuter buses driving the streets of Kaesong and Pyongyang.

North Korea’s growing nuclear arsenal is expected to be a major topic of discussion at a summit between South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and U.S. President Joe Biden in Washington later this month. The Yoon administration has been seeking stronger assurances from the United States that it would surely deploy all its military capabilities, nuclear included, quickly to protect South Korea should North Korea launch a nuclear attack.

North Korea’s weapons-test spree has also heightened the urgency for Seoul and Tokyo to beef up their defense posture in conjunction with an alliance with the United States.

Discussions by world leaders at next month’s Group of Seven meeting in Japan could also be crucial in maintaining diplomatic pressure on North Korea after the U.N. Security Council became dysfunctional due to confrontation between permanent members, experts said. Beijing and Moscow last year blocked a U.S.-led push to tighten Security Council sanctions on some of North Korea’s major missile tests, underscoring a deepening divide over Russia’s war on Ukraine.

—Hyung-jin Kim and Kim Tong-hyung, Associated Press

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