North Korea has fired two short-range ballistic missiles from the Pyongyang area towards the country’s east coast, according to South Korean and Japanese officials, marking Pyongyang’s fourth missile test launch in a week.
Japan’s NHK national television said multiple missiles were fired from North Korea on Saturday morning and were believed to have landed in the Sea of Japan, though outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
“What appears to be a ballistic missile was launched from North Korea,” the Japanese coastguard said in a statement issued at 6:47am (21:47 GMT) local time on Saturday.
In a second statement issued about 15 minutes later, the coastguard said another apparent ballistic missile was launched.
NHK said the projectiles seemed to have fallen outside Japan’s exclusive economic zones, citing government sources.
The office of Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida tweeted that the latest missile launch was being analysed and instructions issued for the safety of people, aircraft and vessels.
▼ Instructions by the Prime Minister in Response to the Missile Launch by North Korea (06:47)https://t.co/5mdyBVeuYz
— PM's Office of Japan (@JPN_PMO) September 30, 2022
North Korea fired short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Wednesday and Thursday in the hours before and after a visit by US Vice President Kamala Harris to South Korea during which she emphasised the “ironclad” United States commitment to the security of its Asian allies.
The latest launch also comes after the navies of South Korea, the US and Japan staged trilateral anti-submarine exercises on Friday for the first time in five years.
Japan’s Vice Defence Minister Toshiro Ino said North Korea’s repeated missile firings are “persistently escalating provocations”.
“North Korea’s actions threaten the peace and safety not only for Japan but also the region and the international community, and are absolutely impermissible,” Ino said, calling the four launches in one week “unprecedented”.
The missiles rose to a maximum altitude of 50km (30 miles) and flew as far as 400km (250 miles) before landing in the Sea of Japan in areas outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone, Ino said.
The missiles may have been on an “irregular” trajectory, which makes tracking more difficult.
North Korea has conducted a record number of weapons tests this year and analysts see the increased pace of testing as an effort to build its ballistic weapons capacity, as well as to take advantage of a world distracted by the Ukraine conflict and other crises.
Nuclear tests and ballistic missile launches by North Korea have long been banned by the United Nations Security Council.
“Despite North Korea’s internal weaknesses and international isolation, it is rapidly modernising weapons and taking advantage of a world divided by US-China rivalry and Russia’s annexation of more Ukrainian territory,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
A South Korean legislator said on Wednesday that the North has completed preparations for a nuclear test, and a window for such a test could open between China’s party congress in October and the US midterm elections in November.