North Korea has fired a ballistic missile towards its eastern waters, according to officials in Seoul, hours after threatening a “fiercer military response” to efforts by the United States to boost its security presence in the region.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the short-range ballistic missile was fired from North Korea’s Wonsan area on Thursday.
The missile flew around 240 kilometres (149 miles) and reached an altitude of 47 kilometres (29 miles), the JCS said, adding that shortly before the launch, the South Korean and US militaries had staged a “pre-planned” missile defense exercise.
The South Korean military will continue to maintain a firm readiness posture, it said.
Pyongyang has tested a record number of missiles this year, including a possible failed intercontinental ballistic missile, while Washington and Seoul have expanded the scope and scale of their joint military exercises.
Some of the drills have involved Japan.
Amid the tensions, leaders of the US, South Korea and Japan held trilateral talks on the sidelines of the East Asia Summit in Cambodia last week and pledged to work together to further “strengthen deterrence”.
In a statement after the discussions, US President Joe Biden, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida “strongly condemned” North Korea’s “unprecedented number of ballistic missile launches” and pledged to “forge still-closer trilateral links, in the security realm and beyond”.
They also warned Pyongyang against conducting a seventh nuclear test, with Biden reiterating that the US’s commitment to defending Seoul and Tokyo was “backed by the full range of capabilities, including nuclear”.
North Korea condemned the trilateral summit on Thursday, with Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui saying the three countries’ “war drills for aggression” would not rein in Pyongyang, but would rather bring a “more serious, realistic and inevitable threat” upon themselves.
“The keener the US is on the ‘bolstered offer of extended deterrence’ to its allies and the more they intensify provocative and bluffing military activities … the fiercer the DPRK’s military counteraction will be,” Choe said in a statement carried by the official KCNA news agency.
She referred to her country by the initials of its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
“The US will be well aware that it is gambling, for which it will certainly regret,” she said.
Choe added that the North’s military activities are “legitimate and just counteractions” to the US-led drills.
Analysts said the signals coming from Pyongyang were significant given the regional summitry of the past week, and Chinese President Xi Jinping’s participation after years of self-imposed pandemic isolation.
China is the isolated North’s main ally and trade partner.
“Beijing may not immediately become more cooperative in dealing with North Korea, even after the Kim regime conducts another nuclear test,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, told Al Jazeera by email.
“But at some point, Chinese interests will prefer exerting pressure on Pyongyang rather than face a more strategically united US, South Korea and Japan.”