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North Korea fires short-range missile days after Japan-S. Korea summit

North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile eastward on Sunday, the Japanese Defense Ministry said, the latest in a series of provocations by Pyongyang and coming days after Japanese and South Korean leaders demonstrated the two countries’ improving ties.

The missile, launched around 11:05 a.m., is believed to have fallen in the Sea of Japan outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, and may have flown on an irregular trajectory, the ministry said. There were no reports of damage to aircraft or ships.

The missile test also came as the United States and South Korea have been conducting a joint military exercise dubbed “Freedom Shield,” which will last for 11 days through March 23, their first large-scale springtime joint military drill in five years.

Japan’s senior vice defense minister Toshiro Ino speaks to reporters at the ministry in Tokyo on March 19, 2023. (Kyodo) 

Japan’s senior vice defense minister Toshiro Ino told reporters in Tokyo that the North Korean missile is estimated to have traveled about 800 kilometers at a maximum altitude of around 50 km.

“The series of actions by North Korea are totally unacceptable as they threaten the peace and safety of Japan, the region and the international community,” Ino said, also referring to North Korea’s launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile on Thursday.

The Japanese government has lodged a protest with North Korea via its embassy in Beijing, Ino said, adding that Tokyo will closely cooperate with the United States and South Korea to deal with the situation.

The South Korean military said Pyongyang fired a short-range ballistic missile from a location near Tongchang-ri, northwestern North Korea.

The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the event “does not pose an immediate threat” to U.S. territory and its allies but added that Pyongyang’s recent missile launches highlight “the destabilizing impact of its unlawful” ballistic missile programs.

“The U.S. commitments to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remain ironclad,” it added, referring to South Korea by its official name.

South Korean military announced on Sunday a U.S. B-1B bomber flew over the Korean Peninsula and conducted a joint drill with South Korean F-35A stealth fighters.

According to Yonhap news agency, the drill took place as part of the Freedom Shield exercise that has been under way since Monday.

North Korea has reacted to the large-scale military exercise being conducted by the United States and South Korea, saying that its launch drill for a Hwasong-17 ICBM on Thursday was intended to give “a stronger warning to the enemies.”

The firing of an ICBM into the Sea of Japan took place just hours before a summit between Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in Tokyo.

During the summit, Kishida and Yoon agreed to strengthen security cooperation bilaterally as well as trilaterally with the United States in the face of North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile threats.

Related coverage:

U.N. chief condemns North Korea’s latest ICBM test-launch

North Korea says it launched Hwasong-17 ICBM as “warning to enemies”

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