North Korea fires a ballistic missile two days after it claimed to fend off a US spy plane, South Korea says
North Korea launched a long-range ballistic missile toward its eastern waters on Wednesday, its neighbors said, two days after North Koreato protest a so-called provocative US reconnaissance activity near their territory.
The South Korean military detected the launch of a long-range missile from the north’s capital region around 10 a.m., the south’s chiefs of staff said in a statement. It said the South Korean military had strengthened its surveillance position and maintained its readiness in close coordination with the United States.
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada told reporters that the North Korean missile was likely launched at an elevated trajectory, at a steep angle that North Korea typically uses to avoid neighboring countries when testing long-range missiles.
Hamada said the missile is expected to land at sea about 550 kilometers (340 miles) east of the coast of the Korean peninsula, outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
North Korea’s long-range missile program targets the US mainland. Since 2017, North Korea has conducted a series of ICBM launches to acquire nuclear weapons capable of attacking major US cities. Some experts say North Korea still needs to master some technologies to have operational nuclear-armed ICBMs.
Ahead of Wednesday’s launch, the North’s most recent long-range missile test took place in April, when it launched onea type of weapon that experts say is harder to detect and intercept than liquid-fuel weapons.
Wednesday’s downing, North Korea’s first weapons downing in about a month, came after North Korea released a series of statements earlier this week accusing the United States of flying a military plane near North Korea to spy on the North.
The United States and South Korea denied the North’s allegations and called on it to refrain from any action or rhetoric that could foment hostilities.
In a statement Monday night, Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of North Korea’s sister Kim Jong Un, warned the United States of a “shocking incident” as she claimed the US spy plane had previously flown over the North’s eastern exclusive economic zone eight times during the day. She claimed the North used fighter jets to drive off the US plane.
In another heated statement Tuesday, Kim Yo Jong said the US military would face a “very critical rout” if it continued its illegal aerial spying activities. The Northern military separately threatened to shoot down US spy planes.
“Kim Yo-jong’s belligerent statement against US reconnaissance planes is part of a North Korean pattern of inflating external threats to gain domestic support and justify weapons testing,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul. “Pyongyang also plans its shows of power to disrupt what it perceives as diplomatic coordination against itself, in this case the meeting of South Korean and Japanese leaders during the NATO summit.”
North Korea has made numerous similar threats over alleged US intelligence activities, but its latest comments come amid rising hostilities over North Korea’s missile tests earlier in the year.