North Korea says the ICBM test was designed to scare enemies

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Friday said it fired an intercontinental ballistic missile to “terrify the enemies”, as South Korea and Japan agreed at a summit to work closely with the United States on regional security and organize military exercises in the region.

The missile, launched Thursday from North Korea’s main airport as leader Kim Jong-un and his daughter smiled from afar, overshadowed a summit held hours later between South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida. The meeting in Tokyo focused in part on restoring security ties between the often-estranged US allies in the face of North Korean nuclear threats.

With four missile displays in about a week, North Korea has stepped up its tit-for-tat response to ongoing US and South Korean military exercises which are the largest of their kind in years.

The Biden administration wants better ties between South Korea and Japan, which have been soured by historic problems in recent years, as it pushes to strengthen its alliance network in Asia to counter the North Korean nuclear threat and China’s rising influence .

Aside from their combined exercises that began Monday and run through March 23, the United States and South Korea are also participating in anti-submarine warfare exercisesalong with Japan, Canada and India, which began Wednesday.

North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency said Kim oversaw testing of the Hwasong-17 missile, which was fired from a launch vehicle parked on an airport runway. Kim stressed the need to “instill fear in the enemies” over what she called the “open hostility” shown to the North by the US-South Korea exercises.

Launched from a high angle to avoid the territory of North Korea’s neighbors, the missile reached a maximum altitude of 6,045 kilometers (3,756 mi) and traveled 1,000 kilometers (621 mi) before landing in waters off the east coast of the country, KCNA said.

The South Korean and Japanese militaries rated the flight similarly, indicating that the US mainland is within range of the missile. It remains unclear whether North Korea has developed nuclear bombs small enough to fit on its long-range missiles or the technology to ensure its warheads survive atmospheric reentry when fired on normal trajectories.

State television showed the launch from various angles, including footage from a video camera apparently installed on the missile body, which gave an aerial view of the missile hovering from above the ground, amidst bright orange flames, before the bottom chamber fell off in what looked like a stage divide.

Pyongyang official Rodong Sinmun also released photos believed to have been taken by a camera on the rocket as it flew into space. They showed a round image of the Earth, with clouds scattered over what appeared to be the Korean Peninsula and Asian coastline.

Kim was accompanied by his daughter, believed to be named Kim Ju Ae and about 10 years old. She has accompanied him to various military events since she was first publicly revealed at another ICBM launch in November. Analysts say the intent of her public appearances at military events is to link the Kim family’s dynastic rule to the nuclear arsenal that Kim sees as the strongest guarantee of his survival.

The high-altitude photos were apparently intended as evidence that the missile would be able to accurately hit its target, said Cheong Seong-Chang, a senior analyst at South Korea’s private Sejong Institute.

While all of North Korea’s ICBM tests have been conducted from a high angle, Cheong said the North is likely moving closer to launching one of those missiles at an angle closer to its normal ballistic trajectory over the Pacific, in what one of the most provocative gun demonstrations ever.

KCNA said the ICBM launch sends a “stronger warning” to North Korea’s rivals who are escalating tensions with their “frantic, provocative and aggressive large-scale war exercises.” The test was also designed to confirm the reliability of the weapons system, KCNA said.

Kim said it is critical for North Korea’s nuclear missiles to remain ready to counterattack rivals with “overwhelming offensive measures at any time” and make them realize that their sustained and extensive military actions are “an pose an irreversible, serious threat to them,” said KCNA.

Lee Hyojung, spokesman for South Korea’s Ministry of Unification, which handles inter-Korean affairs, said it was deeply regrettable that the North continued to use US and South Korean military exercises as an excuse to hold provocative military demonstrations.

“It is clear that North Korea’s reckless development of nuclear weapons and missiles is the cause of escalating tensions on the Korean peninsula,” she said, urging Pyongyang to resume dialogue.

Speaking in Singapore on Thursday, the chief of the US Indo-Pacific Command, Adm. John Aquilino, that China has a role to play in the world if it adheres to the rules-based order, especially with regard to North Korea, which depends on Beijing as its main ally and economic lifeblood.

North Korea’s accelerated weapons development, underscored by the dozens of missiles it tested last year, poses an increasing threat to South Korea and Japan, and the country has also “developed the capabilities to threaten the United States as well,” Aquilino said. .

“It’s destabilizing, it’s unpredictable, it continues, it doesn’t slow down. The potential for the People’s Republic of China to help deter the DPRK from carrying out these events would be helpful,” Aquilino said, using the initials of North Korea’s official name.

North Korea has long portrayed US and South Korean military exercises as rehearsals for an invasion, though the Allies describe those exercises as defensive.

Many experts say North Korea is using its rivals’ exercises as a pretext to aggressively expand its nuclear arsenal and overall military capability.

As of last week, North Korea has also launched cruise missiles from a submarine and short-range missiles into the sea, in an effort to demonstrate that it can launch potential nuclear strikes against both South Korean targets and the US mainland.

Thursday’s launch was North Korea’s second ICBM this year. The Hwasong-15 was launched in February is a slightly smaller weapon than the Hwasong-17.

At the summit between Yoon and Kishida, the leaders agreed to resume defense dialogue and further strengthen security cooperation with the United States to face North Korea and other challenges.

“The growing threat from North Korea’s nuclear missile program poses a huge threat to peace and stability, not only in East Asia, but also to the (wider) international community,” Yoon said. “South Korea and Japan must work closely together and show solidarity to wisely face the threat.”


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