SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired three more missiles on Thursday, including a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile, the South Korean and Japanese governments said, and continued to heighten tensions a day after it set a record of at least 23 missiles in one. day launched.
Concerns that one of the missiles would fly over Japan prompted the government to activate its early warning system, prompting residents of northern Miyagi, Yamagata and Niigata prefectures to take cover inside or underground. Officials later said the missile did not fly over Japan and disappeared over the water.
North Korea has stepped up its weapons tests and fiery rhetoric as the US and South Korea continue large-scale joint military exercises this week. The tests are seen as an attempt by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un to develop his regime’s nuclear arsenal, pressure the US to relax crippling sanctions and gain international acceptance as a nuclear state.
The suspected long-range missile was fired toward the sea at 7:40 am (6:40 pm ET Wednesday) from the Sunan area of Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said. An hour later, North Korea fired two suspected short-range missiles at sea from the Gaechon area of South Pyongan province.
In a statement issued late Wednesday in Washington, the State Department condemned North Korea’s launch of intercontinental ballistic missiles and called it a clear violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions. It said the launch underlined the need for all countries to fully implement those resolutions, “which are intended to prohibit (North Korea) from acquiring the technologies and materials needed to conduct these destabilizing tests.”
It said US commitments to the defense of South Korea and Japan remained “iron strong”.
The South Korean military said it had strengthened surveillance and monitoring in close cooperation with the US and maintained military preparedness for all situations.
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said one of the missiles reached a height of 1,242 miles and flew 466 miles and landed in waters west of Japan. It could have been a medium to long-range missile, he said.
South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff provided similar numbers, saying the missile reached an altitude of 1,193 miles and flew 472 miles at a speed of about Mach 5.
North Korea last tested an intercontinental ballistic missile in March, the first such test since 2017. US and South Korean officials say the country is also preparing for its seventh nuclear test, which would also be its first since 2017.
Early last month, North Korea sent a medium-range ballistic missile over Japan in its longest-ever weapons test. The nuclear missile has the range to reach the US Pacific region of Guam.
Tensions had already risen on Wednesday as South Korea responded to North Korea’s barrage by firing three air-to-ground missiles of its own. The two countries’ missiles landed in international waters across their disputed sea borders, but not on their actual territory.
South Korea is in a period of national mourning after the Halloween crush in Seoul that killed 156 people. The government of President Yoon Suk Yeol has been criticized for the police’s failure to prevent the tragedy.
In addition to improving military capabilities, the missile tests also serve the North’s political purposes, said Leif-Eric Easley, an associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
“From Pyongyang’s perspective, the unpopularity of the Yoon government seems like an opportunity to force the South Korean public to oppose security cooperation with Washington,” he said by email. “Meanwhile, the shooting at Japan could be interpreted as a threat not to be involved in the security of the Korean peninsula.”