North Korea on Friday fired an intercontinental ballistic missile in one of its most powerful tests ever, with Japan saying the weapon may have had a range as far as the mainland United States.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said he believed the missile landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, calling the launch “totally unacceptable”.
The launch was Pyongyang’s second in two days and part of a record blitzkrieg in recent weeks, which North Korea – and some allies including Moscow – have blamed on the United States for boosting regional security cooperation, including joint military exercises.
The South Korean military said the missile flew 1,000 km at an altitude of 6,100 km, just short of a missile Pyongyang fired on March 24, which appears to be North Korea’s most powerful such test yet.
Later on Friday, Tokyo and Washington conducted joint military exercises in the airspace over the Sea of Japan.
A joint statement distributed by the Japanese Ministry of Defense said: “Japanese Self-Defense Forces and the US Armed Forces conducted bilateral exercises … amid an increasingly dangerous security environment surrounding Japan.”
“This bilateral exercise reaffirms the strong will between Japan and the United States to respond to any situation.”
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US Vice President Kamala Harris convened a meeting on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Summit in Bangkok to discuss the launch with regional leaders.
Harris said: “We strongly condemn these actions and call on North Korea once again to stop further illegal and destabilizing actions.”
North Korea, led by Kim Jong Un, has launched dozens of ballistic missiles this year — far more than in any other year on record — and recent launches have been increasingly provocative, including a missile launch over Japan last month, which resulted in a rare airstrike. warning.
On November 2, Pyongyang fired 23 missiles, including one that crossed the de facto sea border and landed near the South’s territorial waters for the first time since hostilities in the Korean War ended in 1953. Seoul called it a “de facto territorial invasion.”
The next day, North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile – though Seoul said it apparently failed mid-flight.
Also read: North Korea launches more ballistic missiles amid international tension
Tokyo Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the ICBM on Friday was launched on an “overhead trajectory,” meaning the missile was fired and not launched, usually to avoid flying over neighboring countries.
Their calculations, he said, indicated that the missile “could have had a capable range of up to 15,000 km, depending on the weight of its warhead, and if that was the case, that would mean the mainland United States was within range.”
The launch comes a day after North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile in what Pyongyang said was a response to Sunday’s talks between Seoul, Tokyo and Washington.
North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui had warned that Pyongyang would take “more aggressive” military action if the United States followed through on plans to strengthen its commitment to “extended deterrence” for regional allies.
– ‘Clear message’ –
In addition to speaking to leaders in Seoul and Tokyo, US President Joe Biden discussed North Korea’s recent missile tests with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping earlier this week, as concerns grow that the reclusive regime will soon conduct its seventh nuclear test.
Han Kwon Hee, director of the Missile Strategy Forum, said the launches are “a clear message to the United States and Japan,” adding that the launches were “part of North Korea’s response to the recent talks.”
Han added that Pyongyang is trying to show the South and America that “its missiles can easily penetrate its defense systems, no matter how hard the two try to improve them.”
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Washington has responded to North Korea’s sanctions-defying missile tests by extending exercises with South Korea, including the deployment of a strategic bomber, and by moving to beef up the protection it provides to Seoul and Tokyo.
China, Pyongyang’s main diplomatic and economic ally, joined Russia in May in vetoing a US-led bid in the UN Security Council to toughen sanctions on North Korea.
Experts say North Korea is seizing the opportunity to conduct banned missile tests, confident it can escape further UN sanctions over the Ukraine-related stalemate at the UN.
“I basically see these types of ICBM tests as having a developmental purpose,” said Ankit Panda, a senior Stanton fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Kim will test a nuclear weapon at a time of his choosing. North Korea could conduct such a test with little notice.”