People watch a TV screen about North Korea’s missile launch at a train station in Seoul, South Korea, on Wednesday. AP
North Korea has launched a ballistic missile toward its eastern waters on Wednesday, South Korean and Japanese officials said, days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to bolster his nuclear arsenal “at the fastest possible pace” and threatened to use them against rivals.
The launch, the North’s 14th round of weapons firing this year, also came six days before a new conservative South Korean president takes office for a single five-year term.
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South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the missile was fired from the North’s capital region and flew to the waters off its eastern coast. It said the South Korean military is monitoring possible additional weapons launches by North Korea.
Japan’s Defence Ministry said North Korea has fired a possible ballistic missile without providing further details. The Japanese Coast Guard urged vessels traveling off Japanese coasts to stay away from any possible fragments.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attends a photo session with the officers and soldiers. AP
Japan’s government set up an emergency task force to deal with the missile launch, and noted that Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, currently in Rome for talks with Italian officials, instructed officials to do utmost for an emergency and to protect the safety of the people as well as vessels and aircraft around Japan.
Observers say North Korea’s unusually fast pace in weapons testing this year underscores its dual goal of advancing its missile programs and applying pressure on Washington over a deepening freeze in nuclear negotiations. They say Kim eventually aims to use his expanded arsenal to win an international recognition of North Korea as a nuclear state that he believes would help force the United States to relax international economic sanctions on the North.
One of the North Korean missiles tested recently was an intercontinental ballistic missile potentially capable of reaching the entirety of the American homeland. That missile’s launch broke Kim’s self-imposed 2018 moratorium on big weapons tests.
There are signs that the North is also preparing for a nuclear test at its remote northeastern testing facility. If made, the atomic bomb test explosion by North Korea would be the seventh of its kind and the first since 2017.