TOKYO – North Korea test-fired two ballistic missiles early Sunday, the Japanese and South Korean governments said, a day after denouncing a military exercise near the Korean Peninsula involving a US aircraft carrier for raising regional tensions.
Both missiles, which North Korea fired into waters to its east at around 1:47 a.m. and 1:53 a.m., fell outside Japan's exclusive economic zone after traveling an estimated 350 kilometers at a maximum altitude of 100 km, according to Japanese officials.
Since late September, North Korea has conducted missile tests at a pace never before seen. Before the recent cluster, there had been a test hiatus of almost four months.
The latest test, the 25th this year, came days after the nuclear-armed nation launched a ballistic missile over the Japanese archipelago for the first time in five years.
Senior Vice Defense Minister Toshiro Ino told reporters North Korean missile launches "threaten the peace and safety of our nation, the region and the international community...so we strongly condemn" them.
There were no reports of damage to aircraft or ships, he said, adding the government is analyzing the possibility the projectiles were submarine-launched ballistic missiles.
The South Korean military said North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles from near the Munchon area on its east coast, with their top speed reaching Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound.
South Korea's presidential office convened a National Security Council meeting and warned the North that its flurry of weapons tests could further isolate it from the international community and eventually destabilize the regime.
The missile fired on Tuesday over Japan traveled 4,600 km, the longest distance ever for an intermediate-range or longer one launched by North Korea, putting it within reach of the U.S. territory of Guam.
It led the US nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Ronald Reagan to return to waters near the peninsula for further military exercises with South Korea.
A spokesman for North Korea's Defense Ministry on Saturday slammed the aircraft carrier's presence, describing it as "an event of considerably huge negative splash to the regional situation."
He said North Korea's armed forces are "seriously approaching the extremely worrisome development of the present situation."
The latest test, the seventh round of missile launches in about two weeks, came after South Korea and the United States concluded a two-day naval exercise in the Sea of Japan on Saturday, the eve of the 77th anniversary of the founding of the North's ruling Workers' Party.
The Ronald Reagan also participated in drills with South Korea's navy from Sept. 26 to 29, before Japan joined the first anti-submarine exercise in five years involving the three countries.
The US Indo-Pacific Command said it had assessed that Sunday's missile launch did not pose an immediate threat to US territory or its allies but highlighted the "destabilizing impact" of North Korea's "unlawful" weapons programs.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida instructed officials to prepare for contingencies, do their utmost to swiftly provide necessary information to the public and ensure the safety of aircraft and ships, according to his office.
Still, fears remain that North Korea could engage in additional provocative actions, including its seventh nuclear test which would be its first since September 2017.
There are no signs that North Korea is willing to stop developing weapons that are banned under UN Security Council resolutions.
Last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said Pyongyang will not yield to international economic sanctions and pledged that he will never give up the nuclear weapons it needs to defend itself from US military threats. (Kyodo)