Northeast AsiaWeapons Proliferation

Japan, South Korea, U.S., allies, partners denounce North Korea’s latest ICBM test


Allies, partners and much of the international community condemned North Korea’s test-firing of a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) into the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, in mid-March 2023. Japan and South Korea called it a reckless provocation that violates United Nations Security Council sanctions and threatens international peace.

North Korea’s failure to follow international norms for space launches (or ICBM testing) endangered air travel and commercial shipping in the region. The ICBM launch occurred hours before South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol flew to a Tokyo summit with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and during annual Freedom Shield exercises involving militaries from South Korea and the United States. North Korea has fired multiple test missiles in March, news sources said.

Dispatched from Pyongyang, the ICBM missile ascended at a steep trajectory and appeared to fly higher than 6,000 kilometers for about 70 minutes, Reuters reported. It likely landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone about 200 kilometers west of Oshima-Oshima Island in northern Japan, Japanese and South Korean defense officials said. There were no reports of injuries or damage.

The 11-day Freedom Shield 23, which began March 13, continued as planned. North Korea has dubbed the exercises preparations for a war of aggression, Yonhap News Agency reported.

The summit addressed, among other priorities, North Korea’s test-firings, which reached unprecedented levels in 2022 and have continued in 2023. Japanese and South Korean leaders agreed to share real-time information about North Korea’s missile launches and vowed to deepen their military cooperation, Reuters reported. They also decided to meet regularly, restart a bilateral security dialogue and end a trade dispute. (Pictured: Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, right, and South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol shake hands before their meeting.)

Observers noted that North Korea’s aggressive actions, including threats to use nuclear weapons, appeared to bring Japan and South Korea closer together.

“We must further strengthen cooperation among the allies and like-minded countries,” Kishida said, The Associated Press reported.

“Prime Minister Kishida and I agreed that North Korea’s nuclear and missile development threatens peace on the Korean Peninsula, in Northeast Asia and in the world,” Yoon said, according to Yonhap. “We also agreed that in order to respond to the North’s nuclear and missile threats that are getting more sophisticated by the day, cooperation among South Korea, the United States and Japan, and between South Korea and Japan, is extremely important, and that we should continue to actively cooperate.” Yoon said he agreed to “completely normalize” a military intelligence-sharing pact between Japan and South Korea to better respond to North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats, Yonhap reported.

Yoon’s trip was South Korea’s first bilateral presidential visit to Japan in 12 years, Yonhap reported. The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command urged North Korea to halt its unlawful and destabilizing acts and reiterated the nation’s ironclad commitment to defending Japan and South Korea.

U.N. Security Council sanctions have banned weapons and military equipment sales to North Korea, freeze assets of its nuclear program participants and restrict scientific cooperation with the nation, the Council on Foreign Relations think tank reported in late July 2022. However, North Korea has continued its testing operations.

North Korea’s arms buildup and missile tests take place while its citizens struggle to acquire necessities. The nation is among the poorest in the world but spends heavily on weapons. The barrage of missile firings in 2022 — including 23 in a single day — occurred while leader Kim Jong Un focused on the military rather than shortages of food, clothing and housing.



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