SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea has launched a ballistic missile toward its eastern waters on Wednesday, South Korean and Japanese officials said, days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to bolster his nuclear arsenal “at the fastest possible pace” and threatened to use them against rivals.
The launch, the North’s 14th round of weapons firing, also came six days before a new conservative South Korean president takes office for a single five-year term.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the missile was fired from the North’s capital region and flew to the waters off its eastern coast. It said the South Korean military is monitoring possible additional weapons launches by North Korea.
Japan’s Defense Ministry said North Korea has fired a possible ballistic missile without providing further details. The Japanese Coast Guard urged vessels traveling off Japanese coasts to stay away from any possible fragments.
North Korea’s unusually fast pace in weapons testing this year underscores its dual goal of advancing its missile programs and applying pressure on Washington over a deepening freeze in nuclear negotiations, experts say.
There are also signs that the North is preparing for a nuclear test at its remote northeastern testing facility. If made, the atomic bomb test explosion by North Korea would be the seventh of its kind and the first since 2017.
Last week, Kim Jong Un showcased his most powerful nuclear-capable missiles targeting both the United States and its allies during a massive military parade in capital, Pyongyang. During a speech at the parade, Kim said he would develop his arsenal at the “fastest possible pace” and warned that the North would preemptively use its nuclear weapons if its national interests are threatened.
It appears Kim’s brinkmanship is meant to boost his weapons arsenal and apply more pressure on Washington and Seoul to accept his country as a nuclear state and relax extensive international sanctions on it, observers say.
Wednesday’s launch came before the May 10 inauguration of South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk Yeol, who has vowed to boost Seoul’s missile capability and solidify its military alliance with Washington to better cope with increasing North Korean nuclear threats.
North Korea has a history of raising animosities with weapons tests when Seoul and Washington inaugurate new governments in an apparent bid to boost its leverage in future negotiations.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi contributed to this report from Tokyo.