On Friday, North Korea announced that it had fired an intercontinental ballistic missile in an attempt to intimidate its enemies, while South Korea and Japan participated in military exercises and agreed to collaborate on regional security with the United States.
The missile launch occurred on Thursday, shortly before a summit between South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida aimed to rebuild security ties between the two countries amidst North Korean nuclear threats.
In the past week, North Korea has conducted four missile displays, responding tit-for-tat to the ongoing military exercises between the United States and South Korea, which are the largest in years.
The Biden administration hopes to strengthen its alliance network in Asia by improving South Korea-Japan relations, which have deteriorated in recent years due to historical issues, to counter both the North Korean nuclear threat and China’s growing influence in the region.
Apart from the combined exercises that began on Monday and will continue through March 23, the United States and South Korea also participate in anti-submarine warfare drills with Japan, Canada, and India, which began on Wednesday.
North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency reported that the Hwasong-17 missile was test-fired under the supervision of leader Kim Jong Un, who stressed the importance of “striking fear into the enemies” due to the “open hostility” displayed by the US-South Korea exercises.
Launched at a high angle to avoid neighboring territories, the missile reached a maximum altitude of 6,045 kilometres and travelled 1,000 kilometres before landing in waters off the country’s eastern coast.
The South Korean and Japanese militaries estimated that the missile’s range included the US mainland.
However, it remains unclear whether North Korea has developed nuclear bombs small enough to fit on its long-range rockets or the technology to ensure their warheads survive atmospheric reentry when fired at a normal trajectory.
In photos published by North Korea’s official Rodong Sinmun newspaper, Kim watches from afar as the missile was launched from a runway at the Sunan International Airport in Pyongyang.
Kim’s daughter, Kim Ju Ae, also appeared to be present at the event. Her attendance at military events is believed to be an attempt to tie the Kim family’s dynastic rule of North Korea to the nuclear arsenal, which Kim sees as the strongest guarantee of his survival.
Cheong Seong-Chang, a senior analyst at South Korea’s private Sejong Institute, stated that the photos of the missile’s launch were apparently intended to demonstrate the missile’s accuracy and capability to strike its target.
Although all of North Korea’s ICBM tests have been conducted at a high angle, Cheong speculated that the country is moving closer to launching one of these missiles at a normal ballistic trajectory across the Pacific Ocean, which would be a provocative demonstration of its weapons capabilities.
North Korea’s increasing weapons development, demonstrated by the dozens of missiles test-fired last year, poses a growing threat to South Korea, Japan, and the United States.
Adm. John Aquilino, chief of the US Indo-Pacific Command, urged China to play a role in maintaining the rules-based order, particularly with regard to North Korea, which relies on Beijing as its major ally and economic lifeline.
Since North Korea often interprets the US-South Korea military drills as potential rehearsals for invasion, the country aggressively seeks to expand its nuclear arsenal and military capabilities.
At the summit between Yoon and Kishida, the leaders agreed to resume defense dialogue and enhance security cooperation with the United States to counter the threats posed by North Korea and other regional challenges.»North Korea’s missile tests escalate tensions in Asia«