Nuclear-armed North Korea tested at least one apparent ballistic missile on Wednesday for its first launch of the year — just five days into 2022 — Japan and South Korea said.
The Japanese Defense Ministry said the test appeared to be of a ballistic missile. South Korea’s military also confirmed a test into the waters off its east coast but said it was of an unidentified projectile.
The launch was North Korea’s first since it fired off a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in October.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida confirmed the launch, but said Tokyo was working to confirm whether it was of one or more missiles and whether they had landed in the country’s exclusive economic zone.
“It’s truly regrettable that North Korea has been launching missiles in succession since last year,” Kishida said.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — who marked a decade in power in December — oversaw a key party meeting last week at which he vowed to continue building up his country’s military capabilities.
“The military environment of the Korean peninsula and the trend of the international situation getting instable day after day demand that bolstering the state defence capability be further powerfully propelled without a moment’s delay,” Kim was quoted as saying by the official Korean Central News Agency.
The report said Kim had used the meeting to order the production of powerful, modern weapons systems to improve his capabilities and called for the military to remain “faithful and obedient” to the ruling party.
That meeting, however, focused on a vow by the North Korean supreme leader to end the country’s chronic food shortages. The North is under tough U.N. sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs, but has also shuttered its borders due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
In recent months, North Korea has tested a range of increasingly powerful new weapons systems in addition to its latest SLBM. These have included a long-range cruise missile believed to be capable of delivering a nuclear bomb to Japan, as well as a train-launched weapon and what the North said was a hypersonic gliding vehicle. All are believed to represent progress in Pyongyang’s quest to defeat missile defenses.
The pace of North Korean weapons testing has triggered concern in Tokyo, with top officials — including Kishida — openly suggesting the possibility of Japan acquiring the capability to attack enemy bases.
“North Korea’s remarkable nuclear and missile technology development is something we cannot overlook,” Kishida said in October. “Amid this situation, I’ve already given instructions to revise our country’s National Security Strategy, including considering the option of acquiring the so-called capability to strike enemy bases.”
Staff writer Satoshi Sugiyama contributed to this report.
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