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North Korea Fires Ballistic Missile Tests While Blinken Is in Seoul

People walk past a television showing a news broadcast with file footage of a North Korean missile test, at a railway station in Seoul on March 18, 2024. North Korea fired a ballistic missile on March 18, Seoul's military said, as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited South Korea to meet top officials and attend a democracy summit. Credit - Anthony Wallace–AFP/Getty Images

North Korea launched ballistic missiles early Monday morning local time, marking the first such test in about a month. The missiles flew approximately 200 miles from Pyongyang and landed in the waters off of North Korea’s east coast between the Korean peninsula and Japan, according to South Korean officials.

The Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida said that no damage was reported but nevertheless condemned the missile launching. “North Korea’s series of actions threaten the peace and security of our region and the international community, and are absolutely unacceptable,” he said during a parliamentary session, per the Associated Press.

The U.S. secretary of state Antony Blinken was in Seoul when the missiles were launched, along with high profile representatives from several other countries who were attending the Summit for Democracy conference. The annual summit was created by the Biden Administration in 2021 to address the threats to the democratic process worldwide. This year’s summit focused on threats from technology including deepfakes, generative artificial intelligence, and misinformation.

The U.S. The State Department condemned the launches saying that they were a threat to the security of the region and reaffirmed its commitment to protect South Korea and Japan from the North Korean threat.

Last week, the U.S. and South Korean militaries completed a series of joint military drills, which the North views as a rehearsal for an invasion. Currently, 80,000 U.S. troops are stationed in South Korea.

North Korea has increased the frequency of its ballistic missile tests in the last few years, testing 33 missiles in the year 2023 alone according to the Center for Arms Control and Non-Proliferation. In 2021, for comparison, it tested just eight missiles. North Korea typically frames the launches as a response to escalating military activity by the U.S. and South Korea.

Bernard Loo, senior fellow at the S. Rajaratnam School of International Studies in Singapore, told TIME last year that by launching missiles, North Korea is trying to get international attention since “it has absolutely no leverage whatsoever, except when it comes to nuclear and ballistic missiles tests.” Nevertheless, the behavior remains concerning to leaders around the world, since nuclear weapons are highly dangerous and could pose a threat to the entire planet if launched.

Contact us at letters@time.com.