North Korea has reportedly launched four ballistic missiles, three of which have landed into the Sea of Japan, in an area where Tokyo claims as its sovereign territory.
The missiles were fired early Monday morning, according to the South Korean military, which said they were unlikely to have been intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM).
Japanese officials said three of the ballistic missiles went down in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ) — waters claimed by Tokyo as its sovereign territory.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe reacted to the launches immediately on Monday by saying, “This clearly shows North Korea has entered a new stage of threat.”
Abe said Pyongyang’s launches “clearly violate UN Security Council resolutions,” and that Tokyo “can never tolerate this.”
North Korea has been subjected to international pressure, including Security Council resolutions, to abandon its arms development and nuclear programs. Yet, it says the programs are meant to protect the country from US hostility.
In Washington, the US State Department strongly condemned the latest launches and claimed that Washington was ready to “use the full range of capabilities at our disposal against this growing threat.”
“We remain prepared — and will continue to take steps to increase our readiness — to defend ourselves and our allies from attack,” said spokesman Mark Toner.
South Korean Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn also denounced Pyongyang’s missile tests as “a direct challenge to the international community and a grave violation.”
North Korea’s missile launches coincided with massive joint military drills being carried out by the US and South Korea on the Korean Peninsula. The war games have been condemned by Pyongyang as “dangerous nuclear war drills against the DPRK at its doorstep.”
The US has military forces in South Korea — a long-time adversary of the North — and is planning to deploy an advanced missile system there in response to perceived threats from Pyongyang. The US also occasionally deploys nuclear-powered warships and aircraft capable of carrying atomic weapons in the region.