SEOUL, South Korea AP -- North Korea fired at least one possible ballistic missile in its third weapons launch this month, officials in South Korea and Japan said on Friday, in an apparent reprisal for the new sanctions imposed by the Biden administration for its continuing test launches.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the weapon was fired toward the east, but did not immediately say where it landed or provided other details.
Japan's prime minister's office and the defense ministry also said they detected the North Korean launch and said it was possibly a ballistic missile.
The Japanese coast guard issued a safety advisory, saying an object had possibly landed already. It has urged vessels between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, as well as the East China SeaChina Sea and the North Pacific to pay attention to more information and to keep clear when recognizing falling objects. The Biden administration on Wednesday imposed sanctions on five North Koreans over their roles in obtaining equipment and technology for the North's missile programs in response to the North's missile test this week. It said it would seek new U.N. sanctions.
The Treasury Department announced yesterday that it would boost the country's nuclear war deterrent after North Korea said leader Kim Jong Un oversaw a successful test of a hypersonic missile on Tuesday. Tuesday's test was North Korea's second demonstration of its purported hypersonic missile in a week. In recent months, the country has been ramping up tests of new, potentially nuclear-capable missiles designed to overwhelm missile defense systems in the region as it continues to expand its military capabilities amid a freeze in diplomacy with the United States.
An unidentified Foreign Ministry spokesman has defended the North's launches of alleged hypersonic missiles as a righteous exercise of self-defense, according to a statement by North Korea's official Korean Central News Agency.
The new sanctions underscored the United States' intent to isolating and stifling the North despite Washington's repeated calls for Pyongyang to resume diplomacy that has stalled over disagreements about sanctions relief and nuclear disarmament measures.
The United States has been accused of using a gangster-like approach, saying that the North's development of the new missile is part of its efforts to modernize its military and does not target any specific country or threaten the security of its neighbors.
The spokesperson said that the U.S. is intentionally escalating the situation even with the activation of independent sanctions, not content with referring the DPRK's just activity to the UN Security Council, using an abbreviation of North Korea's formal name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
The spokesperson said that the DPRK will have to take a stronger and a certain reaction if the U.S. adopts a confrontational stance and that the DPRK will have to take a stronger and more threatening response to the DPRK, even though the present U.S. administration is trumpeting about diplomacy and dialogue.
Hypersonic weapons that fly at speeds in excess of Mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, could pose a critical challenge to missile defense systems because of their speed and maneuverability.
Such weapons were on a wish list of sophisticated military assets that Kim unveiled early last year, along with multi-warhead missiles, spy satellites, solid-fuel long-range missiles and submarine-launched nuclear missiles.
North Korea would need years and more successful and longer-range tests before it can be a credible hypersonic system, according to experts.
The Biden administration, whose policies have reflected a shift in U.S. focus from counterterrorism and so-called rogue states like North Korea and Iran to confronting China, has said it will resume talks with North Korea at any time without preconditions.
North Korea has so far rejected the idea of open-ended talks, saying the U.S. must first withdraw its hostile policy, a term Pyongyang mainly uses to describe the sanctions and joint U.S.-South Korea military drills.
In an interview with MSNBC, Secretary of State Antony Blinken said that the United States was deeply engaged with the UN and key partners, including allies South Korea and Japan, on a response.
Some of this is North Korea trying to get attention. It's done that in the past. It'll probably continue to do that, Blinken said. We are very focused on allies and partners in making sure they are properly defended and that there are consequences for these actions by North Korea. A U.S. diplomatic push to convince North Korea to abandon its nuclear weapons program collapsed in January 2019 after the Trump administration rejected the North's demands for major sanctions relief in exchange for a partial surrender of its nuclear capabilities.
Kim Jong Un has pledged to expand a nuclear arsenal that he sees as his strongest guarantee of survival despite the country's major setbacks due to pandemic-related border closures and persistent U.S.-led sanctions.