The South Korean military believes one of the three missiles has long-range capabilities, while Kim Tae-hyo, Seoul’s deputy national security adviser, said the missile launches appeared to have involved the newly developed Hwasong-17 intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
Wednesday’s episode marks North Korea’s 17th round of missile launches this year, including the test-firing of ICBMs at full range for the first time since 2017.
According to the Yonhap news agency, South Korea said it had detected signs North Korea had conducted an experiment with a detonation device in preparation for a possible nuclear test.
Japanese officials said the missiles appeared to have landed outside the country’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ) but added there had been no reports of damage to vessels or aircraft.
The Kyodo news agency cited the nation’s prime minister, Fumio Kishida, as saying said North Korea’s actions “threaten the peace, stability and safety of Japan and the international community and are not acceptable”.
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It came only a day after US President Joe Biden ended his first presidential visit to Asia and followed warnings by Washington and Seoul officials recently that North Korea could conduct a missile or nuclear test — or both — during or soon after his five-day trip to the region.
The US leader and his aides had even prepared contingencies should Pyongyang have launched a long-range missile or conducted a nuclear test while he was there.
Biden’s Asia tour was viewed as a way for the leader to show his top partners in the region can focus on more than the war in Ukraine and that White House resources are going both eastward and westward.
He said shortly after arriving in South Korea: “So much of the future of the world is going to be written here, in the Indo-Pacific, in the next several decades.”
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office a mere two weeks ago, criticised the tests after a meeting of the national security council on Wednesday.
When sworn in, he pledged to get tough with Pyongyang after five years of failed diplomacy.
His office called the missile launches a “grave provocation that violates UN security council resolutions, raises tensions on the Korean peninsula and in north-east Asia and threatens international peace, and strongly condemned them”.
Yonhap said South Korea’s military had responded to the matter by mobilising about 30 F-15K fighter jets while other media reports claimed South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin and his US counterpart Antony Blinken had agreed to work together on a UN sanctions resolution.
The US Indo-Pacific Command said the missile tests highlighted “the destabilising impact of [North Korea’s] illicit weapons programme”.
Yet, the group acknowledged the firings did not pose an immediate threat to US territory and its allies.
A command statement emphasised Washington’s commitment to the defence of South Korea and Japan “remains ironclad”.
Wednesday’s launches could be a response to an agreement between Mr Biden and Mr Yoon to explore an expansion in US-South Korea military exercises. Pyongyang considers this a rehearsal for an invasion.
The two leaders also discussed the possible deployment of more powerful US military assets in South Korea to counter the threat from North Korea.
The White House has mostly ruled out direct talks between Mr Biden and North Korea’s Kim Jong-un, who met former President Donald Trump three times.