North Korea threatens to turn Pacific into ‘firing range’ as it tests nuclear-capable launcher
North Korea said it fired projectiles in the first tests of its nuclear weapon-capable launcher, a day after it tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) of 2023.
The tests were followed by a stark warning from the powerful and outspoken sister of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, who told the US the country would turn the Pacific into a “firing range”, heightening tensions in the Asia-Pacific region.
Pyongyang’s latest blitz of more powerful missile tests in the span of three days sparked urgent responses from the US and South Korea, with Japan urging for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council (UNSC).
Two 600mm radial guns fired multiple projectiles in a drill that was conducted at 7am local time on Monday to aim virtual targets 395km and 337km away respectively, state-run media Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) said.
It said in a statement that Monday’s drills were in response to the US and South Korea staging combined drills involving B-1B bombers, the warplanes that Pyongyang is extremely sensitive to as they can carry a huge payload of conventional weapons.
Kim Yo-jong, sister of the North Korean leader and vice department director of the Central Committee of the Workers’ Party of Korea, warned the US against increasing the presence of strategic military assets on its doorstep, in a furious and lengthy statement.
“The frequency of using the Pacific as our firing range depends upon the US forces’ action character,” she said.
“We affirm once again that there is no change in our will to make the worst maniacs escalating the tensions pay the price for their action.”
On Saturday, the reclusive nation fired a Hwasong-15, an ICBM off Japan’s west coast, prompting Washington and Seoul to hold joint air exercises on Sunday.
The missile – what North Korea claimed to be part of a drill – flew 900km (560 miles) for 67 minutes and landed in the Sea of Japan.
It was fired in a “surprise ICBM launching drill” on written orders of Mr Kim, the state media said.
North Korea said the ICBM test was meant to showcase its “fatal” nuclear attack capacity and verify the weapon’s reliability.
The sister of Mr Kim denied the South Korean scientists’ assessment that the ICBM warhead’s reentry had failed, lashing out at nuclear experts and describing them as “stupid”.
She also said the claim by nuclear experts that it took nine hours and 22 minutes for the North to fire the missile was a “desperate effort to underestimate our preparedness of missile forces”.
Kim Yo-jong insisted that the nine hours of launch preparation time after her brother Mr Kim ordered it included sealing the launch site and evacuating people, and was not long because of the shortcomings of the missile system itself.
“We have possessed satisfactory technology and capability and, now will focus on increasing the quantity of their force.
“They had better rack their brains to take measures to defend themselves, instead of doubting or worrying about other’s technology.”
Calling the US “the worst maniacs”, she warned of taking unspecified “corresponding counteraction” in response to the future moves by the US military.
South Korea’s military has denounced North’s repeated missile launches, describing them as “a grave provocation” that undermines international peace.
Japan condemned the launches as violations of the US Security Council resolutions and a threat to the peace and safety of Japan and the international society.
Japanese prime minister Fumio Kishida on Monday said that Tokyo has requested an emergency meeting with the UN.
“We must deepen Japan-US and Japan-US-South Korea cooperation,” Mr Kishida said. An initial security council briefing led by assistant secretary-general for political affairs Khaled Khiari was set for later on Monday.
The US Indo-Pacific Command said the latest tests highlight “the destabilising impact” of North Korea‘s unlawful weapons programme.
The escalations come ahead of the US and South Korean militaries’ scheduled table-top exercise this week to hone a joint response to a potential use of nuclear weapons by North Korea. The allies are also to conduct another joint computer simulated exercise and field training in March.