SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired three short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Thursday, the latest in a series of weapons demonstrations this year, the South’s military said, as it confirmed its first case since the pandemic began. Coronavirus.
The launches could underscore North Korea’s determination to continue efforts to expand its nuclear arsenal amid the virus outbreak to win the support of leader Kim Jong Un and continue to pressure its rivals in a long-dormant nuclear diplomacy.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that three missiles fired from North Korea’s capital region on Thursday afternoon flew toward the waters off the country’s eastern coast.
It said the South Korean military has increased combat readiness and surveillance while maintaining close coordination with the United States.
Japan also detected a North Korean launch.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida instructed officials to do their best to analyze the launch, ensure the safety of aircraft and ships in the area, and prepare for any possible emergency, according to the Prime Minister’s Office.
Ballistic missiles believed to have come from North Korea landed at sea, Japan’s coast guard said. It urged ships off the coast of Japan to watch out for falling objects and report them to authorities.
Earlier on Thursday, North Korean state media confirmed the country’s first COVID-19 infection as Kim Jong Un ordered a nationwide lockdown to slow the spread of the virus. Kim Jong-un also ordered officials to strengthen the country’s defense posture to avoid any security vacuum.
In recent months, North Korea has tested a barrage of missiles in what experts say is an attempt to modernize its weapons and pressure the United States and its allies to accept it as a nuclear state and ease sanctions on the North. Some observers say North Korea may continue to conduct weapons tests despite heightened anti-virus measures in an attempt to boost public morale at home and bolster loyalty to Kim’s leadership.
Thursday’s launch was North Korea’s first since the inauguration of South Korea’s neoconservative President Yoon Seok-yeol on Tuesday. Yoon’s office said his national security adviser, Kim Sung-han, was planning a meeting to discuss the launch.
North Korea has a history of annoying the new government in Seoul and Washington, apparently to increase its bargaining power in future negotiations. When Yoon meets visiting U.S. President Joe Biden in Seoul next week, the North Korean nuclear threat is likely to be at the top of the agenda.
North Korea’s latest weapons test includes a variety of nuclear missiles that could reach South Korea, Japan or the continental United States
On Saturday, South Korea detected a possible launch of a North Korean ballistic missile from a submarine in its first underwater-launched weapons test since October. There are also signs that North Korea is preparing to conduct its first nuclear test in nearly five years at a remote test site in its northeast.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.
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