The United States, South Korea and Japan have been holding a series of joint military drills to demonstrate their readiness in case of conflict with North Korea. They characterize the drills as defensive in nature, but the regime of leader Kim Jong Un views them as hostile acts and has used them to justify its weapons development and nuclear program.
Kim said the latest launch involved a “new type” of ICBM and his regime would counter threats from the United States and its allies with its own nuclear-capable weapons. He pledged to “react to nukes with nuclear weapons and to total confrontation with all-out confrontation,” state media reported Saturday.
North Korea tested its new Hwasong-17 projectile, a huge new missile that the country revealed in October 2020, which experts believe is designed to carry multiple nuclear warheads. Pyongyang claimed earlier this year that it had successfully tested that missile, but experts believe that was an exaggeration.
Leaders of the three allied countries met on the sidelines of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations summit in Cambodia last week and issued a joint statement outlining their plans to work closer together, including in response to North Korea’s missile launches. They said Pyongyang’s missile tests “pose a grave threat to the peace and security on the Korean Peninsula and beyond.”
Vice President Harris, in Bangkok for a summit of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation, underscored the concern during an emergency meeting Friday about the latest launch. “We strongly condemn these actions and we again call for North Korea to stop further unlawful, destabilizing acts,” she said.
The United States, South Korea and Japan have assessed that North Korea has completed preparations for its first nuclear test since 2017. After the ICBM launch in early November, a stark message from the Pentagon warned that any strike would result in “the end of the Kim Jong Un regime.”
Kim oversaw the test of the ICBM, according to state media Saturday. Photos show that his young daughter attended the missile launch — the first time images of her have been published by state media. Some experts read it as a sign that Kim may have wanted to underscore the continuity of his regime and to signal that he is passing down his family’s legacy of building the country’s nuclear weapons program.
In a statement Thursday, North Korean Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui said the United States is “gambling, for which it will certainly regret,” and added that the recent talks between the three countries in addition to the joint military drills are bringing instability and an “unpredictable phase” on the Korean Peninsula. North Korea also tested a short-range ballistic missile Thursday.
North Korea tests its ICBMs on a lofted trajectory, meaning they are fired at a much higher than normal trajectory — nearly straight up — to avoid other countries. The missiles have come down in the Sea of Japan, or the East Sea.
The missile on Friday flew a distance of 621 miles (1,000 km) and reached a height of 3,728 miles (6,000 km), according to Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno. That is nearly as high as a powerful ICBM the country tested earlier this year, which reached 3,850 miles.
On Friday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the apparent ICBM likely fell in Japan’s waters west of the northernmost island, Hokkaido, and within the country’s exclusive economic zone. There was no reported damage to ships in those waters, said Kishida, who called the launch “unacceptable.”
Min Joo Kim in Seoul, Julia Mio Inuma in Tokyo and Meryl Kornfield in Bangkok contributed to this report.