North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles towards its eastern waters – the latest in its barrage of weapons tests after Pyongyang warned against the US redeployment of an aircraft carrier for a new round of drills with South Korean warships.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement it detected the two missiles launched early Sunday from the North’s eastern coastal city of Munchon. Both missiles reached an altitude of 100km (60 miles) and covered a range of 350km (217 miles), Japan’s State Minister of Defence Toshiro Ino told reporters.
South Korea’s military boosted its surveillance posture and maintains a readiness in close coordination with the United States, it said.
The Japanese government said North Korea fired what was possible ballistic missiles.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida instructed officials to gather and analyse information while ensuring the safety of aircraft and ships around the country.
The Japanese coastguard said it warned ships off the coasts about falling objects and urged them to stay away. Ino said Tokyo would not tolerate the repeated actions by North Korea.
The launch, the North’s seventh round of weapons tests in two weeks, came hours after the United States and South Korea wrapped up a new round of naval drills off the Korean Peninsula’s east coast.
The drills involved the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan and its battle group, which returned to the area after North Korea fired a powerful missile over Japan last week to protest against the carrier group’s previous training with South Korea.
On Saturday, North Korea’s defence ministry warned the Regan’s redeployment was causing a “considerably huge negative splash” in regional security.
It called its recent missile tests a “righteous reaction” to intimidating military drills between its rivals.
“Our missile tests are a normal, planned self-defence measure to protect our country’s security and regional peace from direct US military threats,” said state media KCNA, citing an aviation administration spokesperson.
North Korea regards US-South Korean military exercises as an invasion rehearsal and is especially sensitive if such drills involve US strategic assets such as an aircraft carrier.
North Korea has argued it was forced to pursue a nuclear weapons programme to cope with US nuclear threats.
US and South Korean officials have repeatedly said they have no intentions of attacking the North.
North Korea’s latest launch added to its record-breaking pace of weapons tests this year.
These included a nuclear-capable missile that on Tuesday flew over Japan for the first time in five years, prompting a warning for residents there to take cover, and demonstrating a range to attack the US Pacific territory of Guam and beyond.
Earlier this year, North Korea tested other nuclear-capable ballistic missiles that place the US mainland and its allies South Korea and Japan within striking distance.
North Korea’s testing spree has indicated its leader, Kim Jong Un, has no intention of resuming diplomacy with the US and wants to focus on expanding his weapons arsenal.
But some analysts said Kim would eventually aim to use his advanced nuclear programme to wrest greater outside concessions, such as the recognition of North Korea as a legitimate nuclear state, which Kim believes is essential in getting crippling UN sanctions on his country lifted.
South Korean officials recently said North Korea was also prepared to test a new liquid-fuelled intercontinental ballistic missile and a submarine-launched ballistic missile while maintaining readiness to perform its first underground nuclear test since 2017.