North Korea fired a new ballistic missile on Sunday, as a US aircraft carrier is in South Korea for exercises and days before a visit to Seoul by US Vice President Kamala Harris.
North Korea has engaged in a record-breaking series of weapons tests for several months, while negotiations with the international community over its nuclear and missile programs have stalled.
Pyongyang notably launched its first intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017 in May and adopted a new doctrine in early September that proclaims the country will never give up atomic weapons.
The South Korean military “detected a short-range missile launched by North Korea at 06:53 (21:53 GMT on Saturday) from the vicinity of Taechon, North Pyongan province, into the East Sea” (Sea of Japan ), the staff said in a statement.
The Japanese Coast Guard has issued a warning to ships in the area where the missile fell.
According to Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada, the projectile traveled some 400 km at a maximum altitude of 50 km and crashed into the sea off the North Korean coast, apparently outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
“Japan will continue to work to strengthen its defense capabilities by exploring various options, including the acquisition of response capabilities,” Hamada told reporters.
Pyongyang’s repeated launches are “absolutely inexcusable and the remarkable improvement in its missile technology is something we cannot ignore,” he added.
On Friday, the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its accompanying flotilla arrived at the main port of Busan in southern South Korea. It will have to participate in the coming days in joint exercises with the South Korean army off the east coast of the country.
– Visit from Kamala Harris –
This presence responds to the desire of Seoul and Washington to increase the US presence in the region.
South Korea’s conservative President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office in May, has vowed to strengthen military cooperation with the United States after his predecessor’s failed attempts at diplomatic rapprochement with the North.
Mr. Yoon will also host US Vice President Kamala Harris in Seoul on Thursday.
“The time of the final test falls between the arrival of the USS Ronald Reagan this week and Vice President Harris’s visit to Seoul next week,” RAND analyst Soo Kim told AFP.
“It’s a way for North Korea to show its distrust in the alliance and talk about it at the right time,” he said.
Washington is Seoul’s main security ally and has some 28,500 troops in South Korea.
The two countries have long held joint exercises. They insist on their purely defensive character, but North Korea sees them as dress rehearsals for a future invasion of its territory.
“Pyongyang could make a show of force while the US aircraft carrier is in South Korea,” predicted Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
But according to him, “North Korea’s tests are primarily part of a long-term campaign to increase its offensive military capabilities.”
South Korean and US officials have been warning for months that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is preparing to conduct another nuclear test.
The North Korean regime has tested atomic bombs six times since 2006. The last and most powerful test was in 2017, with an estimated yield of 250 kilotons. Pyongyang mentioned a hydrogen bomb.
“North Korea may delay its seventh nuclear test out of respect for China’s upcoming political conference, which Xi Jinping is painstakingly preparing to expand his leadership” at the end of October, Easley said.
“But there are limits to Pyongyang’s self-discipline,” he added.