President Moon Jae-in of South Korea called a meeting of his top security officials for later Monday morning to discuss the missile launch, coming a week after the North last tested a ballistic missile, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan condemned the launch as a provocation.
“We absolutely cannot accept North Korea’s repeated provocations despite repeated warnings by the international community,” Mr. Abe said Monday morning. He added that leaders at the recent Group of 7 meeting in Taormina, Sicily, had confirmed that deterring North Korea’s nuclear ambitions was a “top priority” and that Japan would work closely with the United States and South Korea to “make the utmost efforts to ensure people’s safety.”
The missile fired on Monday appears to have landed in the sea between Korea and Japan, inside Japan’s so-called exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 nautical miles from the coast. There were no immediate reports of damage to any ships or aircraft in the area, said Yoshihide Suga, Mr. Abe’s chief cabinet secretary.
The missile was fired from Wonsan, on North Korea’s east coast, and flew for 280 miles, the South Korean military said in a statement. The United States Pacific Command said in its own statement that the short-range ballistic missile was tracked from North Korea for six minutes before it landed in the sea. It was the seventh time the North has tested a ballistic missile in two months.
In March, when North Korea launched four missiles at once, three of them landed within Japan’s economic zone. Those launches raised concerns that the North Korean government, led by Kim Jong-un, had developed the ability to pose a greater threat to its neighbors and potentially overwhelm missile defense systems.
The United States has been planning to conduct a test Tuesday of the Pentagon’s multibillion-dollar missile defense system designed to intercept a North Korean warhead. The United States has struggled to make the antimissile system work for decades.
North Korea has deployed a fleet of short- and medium-range missiles, despite a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions prohibiting Pyongyang from testing ballistic missiles.
The missile launched on Monday was different than the Pukguksong-2 missile tested last week, a midrange ballistic missile that South Korean officials have said cannot fly far enough to reach American military bases in Guam.
Still, the Pukguksong-2, first tested in February, represents key strides in the North’s missile technologies. It is fired from a mobile launch vehicle. And unlike the missile fired on Monday, it uses solid fuel, rather than liquid, which means it can be prepared ahead of time in secret and fired quickly, making it difficult for the North’s enemies to detect an attack.
North Korea, which said it would start mass-producing the Pukguksong-2, has been known to test missiles to improve their accuracy and efficiency, and when the government comes under growing international pressure.
Over the weekend, the G-7 leaders issued a statement saying the North Korean government “increasingly poses new levels of threat of a grave nature to international peace and stability.” The statement also called on Pyongyang to give up its nuclear and ballistic missile programs in a manner that would be “complete, verifiable and irreversible.”
On Monday, the South Korean military said it was closely monitoring North Korea “for signs of additional provocations.” (The New York Times)