North Korea Raises Pulse by Launching Long-Range Ballistic Missile at Japan | International

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North Korea launched a long-range ballistic missile Wednesday morning into the waters off its east coast, heading toward Japan, South Korean and Japanese military authorities have reported. The launch, its 12th so far this year, comes two days after Pyongyang accused Washington of violating its airspace with suspected spy planes and condemned its plans to deploy submarine nuclear missiles near the Korean peninsula. It also coincides with two high-level meetings that are not liked among the upper echelons of the North Korean regime: on the one hand, the celebration in Vilnius (Lithuania) of the NATO summit, which was attended by the South Korean president, Yoon Suk -yeol, and the Japanese Prime Minister, Fumio Kishida, and, on the other, a trilateral meeting of the military chiefs of the United States, South Korea and Japan organized in Hawaii (USA).

The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that the missile was launched at 09:59 (02:59, Spanish peninsular time) and that it traveled a trajectory of 1,000 kilometers before falling into the sea, some 250 kilometers west of the Japanese island of Okushiri, located in the northern prefecture of Hokkaido. The missile, which reached an altitude of 6,000 km, hovered for 74 minutes, the longest flight time for a North Korean missile to date.

The South Korean president presided over an emergency meeting of the National Security Council by videoconference from Vilnius, during which he warned North Korea that "illegal acts are paid at a high price," reports the Yonhap news agency. South Korea's top national security body stressed that the launch demonstrates the "importance of like-minded nations showing solidarity." Given this situation, Yoon ordered to intensify cooperation with the United States and Japan and reinforce "the extended deterrence" of the Nuclear Consultative Group, created in April together with Washington with the objective of discussing nuclear and strategic planning and managing the threat that Pyongyang poses to the non-proliferation regime. The South Korean presidential office has notified that the group is scheduled to meet in Seoul on July 18.

North Korea's first long-range ballistic missile firing in three months coincides with increased collaboration between its southern neighbor and NATO. On Tuesday, South Korea pledged to increase military information exchanges with the Atlantic Alliance and enhance cooperation in areas such as non-proliferation and cybersecurity. Before the secretary general of the transatlantic organization, Jens Stoltenberg, Yoon emphasized that the international community must respond firmly to Pyongyang's "nuclear and illegal missile provocations", to which he replied that the situation "affects all allies of NATO” and that it “highlights the importance of sticking together for all those who believe in a rules-based order,” according to the reading offered by Seoul.

The firing is also seen as a possible response to the three-way meeting between the top military commanders of South Korea, Japan and the United States, which ended just before the launch, according to a source cited by Reuters. The meeting, held in Hawaii, has reportedly served to highlight the determination of the three nations to collaborate in the face of the military threat from Pyongyang. It is the first appointment of its kind that has taken place since March 2022.

The North Korean regime's rhetoric against Washington had become more provocative earlier in the week, after the Defense Ministry denounced on Monday that the US plans to send a strategic nuclear submarine to the Korean peninsula in the near future; an act that, according to the aforementioned ministry, could "incite the worst crisis of nuclear conflict." The United States had not sent this type of weapon to South Korea since 1981, and it committed to doing so after the joint declaration issued by presidents Yoon Suk-yeol and Joe Biden last April.

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Also on Monday, Kim Yo-jong, the sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, accused the US air force of trespassing her country's exclusive economic zone on at least eight occasions. In a statement carried by state news agency KCNA, Kim threatened that US "spy planes" will face a "very dangerous" and "shocking" flight if they continue their "illegal intrusions." The also member of North Korea's largest political leadership body warned that Pyongyang's pulse will not tremble when it comes to taking "clear and decisive measures."

Despite the multiple United Nations Security Council sanctions on North Korea, which prohibit any type of nuclear and ballistic missile tests, the country has carried out 12 launches in 2023. In April, it tested the first missile solid fuel intercontinental ballistic of its history; in late May, it tried, but failed, to put into orbit what it described as its first military reconnaissance satellite, launched from a new type of rocket, and last month, it fired two short-range ballistic missiles in protest of a series of of live-fire military exercises between South Korea and the United States.

International analysts believe that some North Korean weapons have sufficient capacity to hit targets in the United States and that the country may have developed nuclear warheads for its rockets. According to some experts cited by South Korean media, the launch this Wednesday could be aimed at promoting internal unity on the eve of a possible military parade taking place on July 27, on the occasion of the 70th anniversary of the signing of the armistice that ended to the Korean War (1950-1953), and which is celebrated as Victory Day in North Korea.

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