(SEOUL) North Korea fired at least one intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) toward the Sea of Japan on Thursday, Seoul said, hours ahead of a visit to Tokyo by South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol.
“Our army detected a long-range ballistic missile fired from the Sunan area in Pyongyang,” the joint chiefs told AFP, adding that it was an ICBM.
The Japanese Ministry of Defense also confirmed the launch, stating in a tweet that the missile was estimated to “fall outside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone, approximately 550 km east of the Korean Peninsula.”
The Japanese Coast Guard has asked ships in the area to watch out for any debris floating at sea.
It is Pyongyang’s third show of force since Sunday, when South Korea and the United States stage their largest joint military drills in five years this week.
President Yoon and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida are due to meet in Tokyo on Thursday for talks including on Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs.
The summit is the first in 12 years between the two neighboring powers, as they seek to mend ties long damaged by atrocities committed by Japan during its 35 years of colonial rule over Korea (1910-1945).
“Korea and Japan increasingly need to cooperate in this time of multiple crises, as North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats escalate,” South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said on Wednesday. in an interview with several media including AFP.
“We cannot afford to waste time by ignoring the tense relations between Korea and Japan. I believe that we must end the vicious circle of mutual hostility and work together to defend the common interests of our two countries,” he added.
The two countries are currently increasing their defense spending and regularly hold joint military exercises.
North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles on Tuesday, and two strategic cruise missiles from a submarine on Sunday, hours before the start of US-South Korea drills.
Called “Freedom Shield”, these exercises began on Monday and are to last ten days.
The South Korean military further disclosed in early March that special forces from Washington and Seoul are also conducting military “Teak Knife” maneuvers, which consist of simulating precision strikes on key facilities in North Korea.
The “Freedom Shield” drills focus on “the changing security environment” due to North Korea’s heightened aggressiveness, the allies said.
North Korea views these exercises as rehearsals for an invasion and regularly promises “overwhelming” action in response to them.