North Korea launched a “long-range ballistic missile” on Thursday, according to Seoul, as South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol traveled to Tokyo for a summit to strengthen ties in the face of Pyongyang’s growing aggression.


The launch was North Korea’s third display of force since Sunday, and it occurred as South Korea and the United States conducted their largest joint military exercises in five years.
“Our military detected one long-range ballistic missile fired from around the Sunan area in Pyongyang,” the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said, according to AFP.

The missile was launched on a lofted trajectory — up rather than out, as is common to avoid overflying neighboring countries — and flew for 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), according to the JCS.

Yoon called for stronger trilateral cooperation with Japan and the US during a National Security Council meeting, adding that “North Korea will pay a clear price for such reckless provocations,” his office said in a statement.

According to Japan’s cabinet office, the missile reached a maximum altitude of more than 6,000 kilometers.

Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that he would meet with National Security Council ministers.

“Peace and stability in the region are critical issues,” Kishida added.
The launch on Thursday came just hours before South Korean and Japanese leaders were set to meet in Tokyo, with Pyongyang’s missile and nuclear programs high on the agenda.
That summit, the first in 12 years, comes as the two neighbors seek to repair diplomatic ties that have been strained by Japanese atrocities during their 35-year colonial rule.
South Korea and Japan are both increasing defense spending and joint military exercises, which Yoon believes are critical for regional and global stability.

“There is an increasing need for Korea and Japan to cooperate in this time of polycrisis, with North Korean nuclear and missile threats escalating,” Yoon said ahead of his trip in a written interview with media outlets including AFP.

Analysts believe North Korea timed the launch to have “double effect” as a warning to its neighbors while also protesting the US-South Korea joint drills.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered earlier this month that military drills be intensified in preparation for a “real war.”

“It’s prime time for Kim to roll out his missiles for a North Korea that’s constantly looking for excuses to justify its hostile activities and weapons development,” said Soo Kim, a former CIA Korea analyst who now works at management consulting firm LMI.

Kim’s test, according to Leif Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, was an attempt by Kim “to threaten Tokyo for deepening trilateral cooperation with Washington and Seoul and to coerce South Korea from holding further defense exercises with the US.”
Seoul and Washington have increased defense cooperation in response to the North’s growing military and nuclear threats, which have included a series of increasingly provocative banned weapons tests in recent months.

North Korea launched two short-range ballistic missiles on Tuesday, just hours after launching two strategic cruise missiles from a submarine on Sunday, just hours before the US-South Korean exercises began.

The Freedom Shield drills began on Monday and are scheduled to last 10 days.
According to the allies, the Freedom Shield exercises are focused on the “changing security environment” as a result of North Korea’s redoubled aggression.
North Korea regards all such drills as rehearsals for invasion and has repeatedly warned that it will respond with “overwhelming” force.

The Thursday test “could be a rehearsal for a normal angle ICBM launch or a check-up in the North’s preparations for a reconnaissance satellite launch,” Yang Moo-jin, a professor at Seoul’s University of North Korean Studies, told AFP.

North Korea has never launched its most powerful missiles on a normal trajectory, and experts are skeptical that they have the technology to survive re-entry into the atmosphere.

Pyongyang, which declared itself a “irreversible” nuclear power last year, has previously stated that one of its top priorities is the launch of a military reconnaissance satellite.