The South Korean military said North Korea fired a ballistic missile toward its eastern waters on Sunday, the latest in the country’s barrage of weapons tests in recent days. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement the launch occurred early Sunday but gave no further details, including how far the weapon may have flown.
The Japanese government also said North Korea fired what was a possible ballistic missile. The Japanese coast guard said it has warned ships around the country’s coasts about falling objects and urged them to stay away. The launch, the North’s sixth round of weapons tests in two weeks, came hours after the United States and South Korea wrapped a new round of naval drills off the Korean Peninsula’s east coast. The drills involved a U.S. aircraft carrier.
North Korea’s military warned Saturday that the U.S. redeployment of the aircraft carrier near the Korean Peninsula is causing a “considerably huge negative splash” in regional security, as it defended its recent missile tests as a “righteous reaction” to intimidating military drills between its rivals.
The North Korean Defense Ministry statement came a day after the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan began naval drills with South Korean warships. The Reagan and its battle group returned to the area after North Korea fired a powerful missile over Japan earlier this week to protest the carrier group’s previous training with South Korea.
North Korea regards U.S.-South Korean military exercises as an invasion rehearsal and is especially sensitive if such drills involve U.S. strategic assets like an aircraft carrier. North Korea has argued it was forced to pursue a nuclear weapons program to cope with U.S. nuclear threats. U.S. and South Korean officials have repeatedly said they have no intentions of attacking the North.
In the past two weeks, North Korea has fired 10 ballistic missiles into the sea in five launch events, adding to its record-breaking pace of weapons tests this year. The recent weapons tests include a nuclear-capable missile that flew over Japan for the first time in five years and demonstrated a range to strike the U.S. Pacific territory of Guam and beyond.
Earlier this year, North Korea tested other nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that place the U.S. mainland and its allies South Korea and Japan within striking distance.
North Korea’s testing spree indicates its leader, Kim Jong Un, has no intention of resuming diplomacy with the U.S. and wants to focus on expanding his weapons arsenal. But some experts say Kim would eventually aim to use his advanced nuclear program to wrest greater outside concessions, such as the recognition of North Korea as a legitimate nuclear state, which Kim thinks is essential in getting crippling U.N. sanctions on his country lifted.
The Reagan carrier group’s latest training with the South Korean navy is to end on Saturday.
South Korean officials recently said North Korea was also prepared to test a new liquid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile and a submarine-launched ballistic missile while maintaining readiness to perform its first underground nuclear test since 2017.