Seoul | South Korea and the United States fired several missiles at maritime targets on Wednesday, a day after Pyongyang fired a ballistic missile over Japan.
A North Korean intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) flew over Japan on Tuesday, prompting Tokyo to activate its warning system for the first time in five years.
South Korean and American militaries fired two ATACMS short-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan on Wednesday to “accurately hit a virtual target,” according to the South Korean General Staff.
The exercises “showed that we are capable and ready to neutralize a source of provocation while maintaining a constant surveillance state,” he said in a press release.
However, South Korea’s military confirmed the failure of the fifth Hyunmoo-2 short-range ballistic missile test, which crashed into the ground shortly after launch.
The missile’s warhead did not explode and no one was injured, the crew said. But a large fire in the town of Gangneung on South Korea’s east coast has sparked panic, with many worried residents calling the town hall, officials said.
On Tuesday, South Korean and American fighter jets had already conducted precision strike exercises with two South Korean F-15K fighter jets dropping bombs on a virtual target in the Yellow Sea, according to Seoul.
John Kirby, a spokesman for the American National Security Council, interviewed by CNN, suggested that it was “to respond to provocations from the North, to make sure that we can demonstrate our own capabilities.”
Negotiations without conditions
“It doesn’t have to come to that. We have made it clear to Kim Jong Un that we are ready to sit at the table without preconditions,” he added.
The US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan, which conducted exercises with the South Korean navy in September, is returning to the region, the South Korean military announced on Wednesday.
North Korea, which adopted a new doctrine in September that changed its status as a nuclear power to “irreversible,” has stepped up its firing this year and launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) for the first time since 2017.
Tuesday’s shooting was the fifth in ten days. Pyongyang has not commented on the matter in official media.
The United Nations Security Council will meet on Wednesday on this issue.
According to Seoul and Tokyo, the missile traveled around 4,600 km, possibly the longest distance Pyongyang has ever reached in its tests. Missiles are usually launched on a high trajectory to avoid overflying neighboring countries.
According to experts and senior officials, the missile is a nuclear-capable Hwasong-12 IRBM. It was first tested in 2017 and can reach US bases on the island of Guam.
UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called on Pyongyang to “restart talks” and “escalate” to achieve “complete and verifiable denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula”.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, for his part, condemned the “provocative act” which “clearly violates universal principles and United Nations standards” and ordered a “firm response”.
Seoul, Tokyo and Washington have recently stepped up joint exercises, holding the first trilateral anti-submarine exercises in five years on September 30, days after large-scale exercises by the American and South Korean navies.
About 28,500 American troops are stationed in South Korea to help protect it from its neighbors.
South Korean and US officials have been warning for months that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un is preparing for another nuclear test.
Several senior officials at the US Asia-Pacific Command suggested this weekend that it could happen after the Chinese Communist Party Congress, which begins on October 16.
“Despite today’s missile launch (…), North Korea’s intention to conduct a nuclear test will not change,” Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the institute, told AFP. told the University of North Korean Studies.
“Pyongyang is likely to scoff at today’s missile launch – especially since one of the launches failed,” he added, referring to Wednesday’s South Korean and American launches.
Pyongyang has tested nuclear bombs six times since 2006. The latest and most powerful test came in 2017, with an estimated yield of 250 kilotons.