North Korea test-fired a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile with an estimated range long enough to carry a warhead to the American mainland, prompting the U.S. to condemn what it said was an unlawful action.
The North Korean missile was launched Friday, a day after Pyongyang warned the U.S. to halt allied military drills in the region or face retribution. President Joe Biden was briefed and resolved to bolster security ties with Japan and South Korea, a National Security Council spokesperson said in a statement.
The test came hours after Vice President Kamala Harris arrived in Bangkok to join the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum. Harris held an impromptu meeting with leaders from Australia, Canada, Japan, New Zealand and South Korea on the sidelines of the event Friday to consult on next steps.
“We strongly condemn these actions, and we again call for North Korea to stop further unlawful, destabilizing acts,” she said at the start of the meeting. “I reaffirmed our ironclad commitment to our Indo-Pacific alliances. Together, the countries represented here will continue to urge North Korea to commit to serious and sustained diplomacy.”
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff called the launch a grave provocation and serious threat that harms peace.
The missile flew for more than an hour, reaching an altitude of around 3,730 miles and a distance of about 600 miles. Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada told reporters. That gave the missile an implied range of more than 9,300 miles, he said – enough to reach the U.S.
The flight time and landing site would be consistent with an ICBM fired in a lofted trajectory to avoid passing over international territory. The last time North Korea successfully conducted such a test was in March, when it fired its Hwasong-15 ICBM that reached an altitude of 3,800 miles and traveled 670 miles to splash down in the sea west of Japan.
The latest test underscored the challenges the Biden administration faces in trying to slow down Kim Jong Un’s atomic ambitions. Kim is finding space to ramp up provocations and conduct tit-for-tat military moves against the US and its allies as Biden focuses on Russia’s war in Ukraine. Russia and China, two long-time partners of North Korea, have veto power at the UN Security Council and have shown no interest in punishing Kim with extra sanctions.
The U.S., meanwhile, has stepped up joint training with South Korea and Japan in recent months with drills aimed at deterring North Korean military moves on land and sea and in the air. This included a joint missile-defense drill Thursday with South Korea, which coincided with the threat from North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui of a military response if the U.S. keeps up with joint exercises.
“The keener the U.S. is on the ‘bolstered offer of extended deterrence’ to its allies and the more they intensify provocative and bluffing military activities on the Korean Peninsula and in the region, the fiercer the DPRK’s military counteraction will be,” she said in a statement issued by state media, referring to North Korea by its formal name.
China is North Korea’s biggest benefactor and President Xi Jinping has held a series of summits with the U.S. and its allies such as Japan and South Korea during international gatherings over the past few days in Asia. Xi sought cooperation in high-tech manufacturing in a meeting with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol as the Biden administration has put in place sweeping curbs on the sale of advanced chips to China.
“In addition to the obvious annoyance with the U.S., South Korea and Japan, Kim Jong Un is probably not happy with Xi Jinping’s over-friendly summits with Presidents Biden and Yoon,” said John Delury, a professor of Chinese Studies at Yonsei University Graduate School of International Studies in Seoul.
The suspected ICBM launch weighed on investor sentiment as the South Korean won fell for a third straight day amid uncertainties over the Federal Reserve’s monetary policy
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the missile likely landed in waters within the country’s exclusive economic zone, which would be the first time in about eight months. Japan’s Coast Guard had projected a landing of about 130 miles west of the main northern island of Hokkaido.
“The provocations are continuing at an unprecedented pace,” Kishida told reporters. “I repeat that we absolutely cannot condone this,” he said.
North Korea last launched a suspected ICBM on Nov. 3 – a rocket that flew eastward and reached an altitude of 1,193 miles before failing, according to South Korea’s military. It also fired a short-range ballistic missile Thursday.
Kim has ratcheted up tensions to the highest level in years by firing off a massive barrage of missiles in recent weeks that included the first one shot across a nautical border with South Korea set up after the Korean War. It has fired off more than 60 ballistic missiles this year – a record that is in defiance of United Nations resolutions barring the tests.
North Korea has bristled for decades at joint military exercises, calling them a prelude to an invasion. The U.S., Japan and South Korea have all warned that Kim’s regime seems to be ready to turn tensions even higher with its first test of a nuclear bomb in about five years.
Washington, Tokyo and Seoul have promised a coordinated response if Pyongyang detonates an atomic device, which would also violate Security Council resolutions. The nuclear test might be used to advance Kim’s pursuit of miniaturized nuclear warheads to mount on missiles to strike South Korea and Japan, which host the bulk of America’s troops in Asia.
North Korea has also been looking to increase the strength of a larger bomb, which could be mounted on an ICBM to target the U.S. homeland.
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