North Korea launched a long-range ballistic missile Thursday morning, Japanese and South Korean officials said, the same day the leaders of the two U.S. allies are due to meet in Tokyo for the first such summit in 12 years.
At least one unidentified ballistic missile was fired into waters off the east coast of the Korean peninsula early Thursday morning local time, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
Japan’s defense ministry also confirmed a launch, estimating the missile would fall outside its exclusive economic zone (EEZ), about 550 kilometers (341 miles) east of the Korean peninsula.
He added that the distance traveled by the missile was about 1,000 km (621 miles) and probably reached an altitude of more than 6,000 km (3,728 miles).
South Korea’s military maintains a full readiness posture while cooperating closely with the United States, the JCS said.
North Korea last tested a long-range missile on Feb. 18, and Thursday is the fourth intercontinental ballistic missile launch in less than a year.
It follows a flurry of tests so far this week – on Sunday North Korea fired two cruise missiles from a submarine and the next day launched two short-range ballistic missiles from South Hwanghae province. .
The tests coincide with joint spring military exercises between the United States and South Korea – the biggest war games the two allies have staged in five years. Prior to the 11-day Freedom Shield drills, North Korea had threatened to take “the toughest counterattack against the most vicious plots of the United States and its supporters”.
The timing also coincides with the imminent arrival of South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol in Japan for a summit that his office hailed as “an important milestone” in the development of bilateral relations.
The two East Asian neighbors have a long history of acrimony, dating back to Japan’s colonial occupation of the Korean peninsula a century ago.
The two countries normalized relations in 1965, but unresolved historical differences have continued to escalate and hostility persists.
More recently, their strained relationship has undermined US efforts to present a united front against North Korea – and China’s growing assertiveness.
Before leaving for Tokyo, Yoon told international media on Wednesday that “there is a growing need for Korea and Japan to cooperate in this time of polycrisis,” citing escalating North Korean nuclear and missile threats. and the disruption of global supply chains.
“We can’t afford to waste time by ignoring the tense relationship between Korea and Japan,” Yoon said.