North Korea Thursday tested three short-range ballistic missiles, according to South Korea’s military, the second provocative act in a week and the first since Seoul inaugurated its new president two days ago.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff said three short-range ballistic missiles were launched from Pyongyang’s Sunan area toward waters east of the Korean Peninsula, in what is the year’s 16th test. It put their flight distance at 360 kilometers and a maximum altitude of 90 kilometers.
Japan’s coast guard identified an object that could be a ballistic missile at around 6:30 p.m., NHK reported, which appeared to have landed outside of Tokyo’s exclusive economic zone.
The last ballistic missile the North sent up, on May 7, was a submarine-launched ballistic missile, Seoul officials said, acknowledging for the first time it likely was launched from a submarine.
On Tuesday, South Korea inaugurated President Yoon Suk-yeol, a conservative, who takes a more hawkish stance against North Korea than his liberal predecessor, Moon Jae-in, and has pledged a “principles-based” approach to dealing with the North.
Yoon's presidential office strongly condemned Thursday's test fire as a "grave provocation", following its first National Security Office meeting.
Earlier on Wednesday, South Korea’s Ambassador to the United Nations Cho Hyun called for North Korea's “complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization” at a U.N. Security Council meeting on the recent missile tests, marking a return of a phrase that irritates Pyongyang.
The latest missile test also comes as South Korea’s military has been beefing up coordination in advance of an anticipated nuclear test, which, if realized, would be its first since September 2017.
Some North Korea watchers had surmised military activity could be put on pause for a time, given Pyongyang’s announced lockdown Thursday morning after confirming COVID-19 cases in the capital city for the first time.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un last month promised to strengthen the state’s nuclear weapons program “in quality and scale” during a nighttime military parade, reinforcing that its self-imposed moratorium on ICBM and nuclear testing was off.