SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea launched a short-range ballistic missile toward eastern waters early Friday and flew fighter jets near the border with South Korea, exacerbating hostilities caused by the northern recent barrage of weapons tests.
The South Korean military also said it had fired about 170 artillery shots from North Korea from eastern and western coastal areas near the border area and that the shells fell into maritime buffer zones that the Koreas had established under a 2018 military agreement. to reduce tensions.
The North Korean actions suggest it would continue a provocative series of weapons tests designed to bolster its nuclear capability for the time being. Some experts say North Korea would eventually want the United States and others to accept it as a nuclear state, lift economic sanctions and make other concessions.
South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said in a statement that the missile lifted off from the north’s capital at 1:49 a.m. on Friday (12:49 a.m. EDT Thursday).
While none of the North Korean artillery shells fell into South Korean territorial waters, the Joint Chiefs of Staff described the shelling as a clear violation of the 2018 agreement, which created buffer zones along land and sea borders and no-fly zones above the border to prevent clashes. to prevent.
Friday’s ballistic launch extended a record number of missile demonstrations by North Korea this year as it uses the distraction created by Russia’s war against Ukraine to accelerate weapons development and increase pressure on Washington and its Asian allies.
In response to North Korea’s increasing 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 illegal activities in order to protect the North. North Korea’s nuclear weapons fund and missile program.
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the missile was flying on an “irregular” trajectory — a possible reference to the north’s highly maneuverable KN-23 weapon, modeled after Russia’s Iskander missile.
“Whatever the intentions, North Korea’s repeated ballistic missile launches are absolutely inadmissible and we cannot overlook the significant advances in missile technology,” Hamada said. “North Korea’s series of actions pose a threat to Japan, the region and the international community, and are absolutely intolerable.”
The South Korean and Japanese armies assessed that the missile traveled 403-434 miles at a maximum altitude of 30 miles before landing in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
The US Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that the North Korean launch posed no immediate threat to US personnel or territory, or to its allies, adding that US commitments to the defense of South Korea and Japan remain “iron strong” .
It was the latest in a series of missile launches by North Korea in recent weeks.
North Korea said Monday that its missile tests over the past two weeks simulated nuclear strikes on key South Korean and US targets. It said tests included a new medium-range missile that flew over Japan and showed potential range to reach the US Pacific region of Guam, and a ballistic missile fired from a domestic reservoir, a first for the country.
North Korea said the weapons tests were intended to warn Seoul and Washington against organizing “dangerous” joint naval exercises involving a US aircraft carrier.
Friday’s launch was the North’s second since announcing the simulation of nuclear strikes. Some observers had predicted that North Korea would likely temporarily suspend its testing activities in view of its main ally China, which will begin a major political conference on Sunday to give President Xi Jinping a third five-year term as party leader.
North Korea said leader Kim Jong-un under surveillance Wednesday’s test launches of long-range cruise missiles that he said successfully demonstrated his army’s growing nuclear strike capabilities.
After the tests, Kim praised the readiness of his nuclear forces, which he said were fully prepared for “real war to bring enemies under their control with one blow” with various weapon systems that are “mobile, accurate and powerful”. He also vowed to expand the operational domain of his nuclear forces, according to KCNA.
There are concerns that Kim could soon raise the bar with his first nuclear test since 2017 or spark military skirmishes with the South that could be followed by threats to use his nuclear weapons.
The Koreas have so far avoided major clashes after their 2018 military agreement, one of the few tangible remnants of former South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s efforts with Kim.
Moon also helped set up Kim’s first summit with former US President Donald Trump in June 2018, but diplomacy collapsed after the second Kim-Trump meeting in February 2019, when Americans pushed North Korean demands for major lifting of rejected the sanctions in exchange for a partial surrender of their nuclear capabilities.
The urgency of North Korea’s nuclear program has increased since it passed a new law last month that allows for the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in a wide variety of scenarios, including non-war situations in which it may view its leadership as threatened.
Most recent North Korean tests have mainly involved short-range nuclear missiles targeting South Korea. Some experts say North Korea’s possible impending nuclear test, its first in five years, would be linked to attempts to produce tactical warheads on the battlefield that could be placed on such short-range missiles.
These developments sparked security concerns in South Korea, with some politicians and scientists renewing their call for the US to re-deploy its tactical nuclear weapons in South Korea as a deterrent to North Korea’s mounting nuclear threats.
South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said in a separate statement that North Korea had flown fighter jets, believed to be 10 aircraft, near the rivals’ border late Thursday and early Friday, prompting South Korea to scramble fighter jets.
The North Korean planes flew as close as 7 miles north of the inter-Korean border. South Korea responded by scrambling F-35 jets and other combat aircraft, the Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
There were no reports of collisions. A similar incident occurred last week, but it was still unusual for North Korea to fly its warplanes near the border. Also, North Korean fighter jets flew much further away from the border during the previous flight last week.
The North Korean military accused South Korea on Friday of conducting artillery fire for about 10 hours near the border. The North Korean military said it was taking unspecified “strong military countermeasures” in response.
“The (North) Korean People’s Army is sending a stern warning to the South Korean military and is sowing military tension in the frontline area with reckless action,” an unidentified spokesman for the General Staff of the Korean People’s Army said in a statement from KCNA. .
The South Korean military later confirmed that it had provided artillery training at a site 10 km away from Korea’s military demarcation line and said the training did not violate the terms of the 2018 agreement.