S. Korea weighs tighter ‘cohesion’ with US as North tests another ballistic missile

South Korea’s incoming defense minister said he’ll push for tighter military “cohesion” between Washington and Seoul in response to increasingly aggressive North Korean posturing Wednesday — comments that came just after the North had carried out another ballistic missile test.

Lee Jong-sup, the nominee for defense minister in the incoming administration of conservative South Korean President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol, told a parliamentary panel in Seoul that it was too early to tell Wednesday whether the North’s latest test was an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

“It might be an ICBM or something with a shorter range,” Mr. Lee said at his confirmation hearing, according to Reuters.

The incoming defense minister separately told South Korean lawmakers he plans to embrace a more proactive posture in response to “threats from all directions.”

“[I] will increase cohesion in the South Korea-US military alliance and expand mutually beneficial defense cooperation with the friendly nation,” Mr. Lee said, according to a report by the South’s Yonhap News Agency.

The comments reflect what many analysts say is the incoming South Korean administration’s intention to shift significantly from outgoing President Moon Jae-in’s yearslong policy of persistent outreach toward North Korea and China.

SEE ALSO: North Korea nuclear test may be imminent as Kim amps up pressure

North tests another missile

The testimony from Mr. Lee, a former three-star South Korean army general, came as the North launched a ballistic missile toward its eastern waters — a test that came days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to speed up the development of his nuclear weapons “at the fastest possible pace” and threatened to use them against rivals.

The launch, the North’s 14th test firing this year, also came six days before Mr. Yoon takes office for a five-year presidential term.

The test occurred as South Korean and Japanese nuclear envoys held talks Wednesday in Seoulissuing statements that urged the Kim regime to stop its provocations and return to diplomatic talks.

China’s top nuclear envoy, Liu Xiaoming, was also in Seoul for talks with his South Korean counterpart when the test took place.

When asked for comment on the missile launch, Mr. Liu reiterated Beijing’s “consistent” support for a “nuclear-free” Korean Peninsula.

SEE ALSO: South Korea’s president-elect vows tighter US alliance amid North Korea threats, China bullying

“First, the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Second, we work for peace and stability. Third, that issue should be resolved by peaceful means,” the Chinese envoy told reporters, according to Yonhap.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the missile was fired from the North’s capital region and flew to the waters off its eastern coast. It called North Korea’s ballistic missile launches “a grave threat” that would undermine international peace and security and a violation of UN Security Council resolutions banning any ballistic launch by the North.

Japan also detected the North Korean launch and quickly condemned it.

“North Korea’s series of actions that threaten the peace, safety and stability of the international community are impermissible,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters during his visit to Rome.

It wasn’t immediately known what missile North Korea launched. South Korea’s military said the missile flew about 290 miles at an apogee of 485 miles. Japanese officials said the projectile traveled about 310 miles at the maximum altitude of 500 miles.

Yonhap reported that military authorities in Seoul were said to presume that the North had launched a Hwasong-15 ICBM in a test that may have been disguised as a “reconnaissance satellite” launch.

Regional experts say the Kim regime has increased the pace of its weapons testing in pursuit of the dual goal of advancing its missile programs and applying pressure on Washington over a deepening freeze in nuclear negotiations.

They say Mr. Kim eventually aims to use his expanded arsenal to win international recognition of North Korea as a nuclear state that he believes would help force the United States to relax international economic sanctions on the North.

Analysts say one of the North Korean missiles tested recently was an ICBM potentially capable of reaching the entirety of the American homeland. That missile’s launch broke Mr. Kim’s self-imposed 2018 moratorium on ICBM tests. There are also signs the North is preparing to carry out a nuclear detonation test at its remote underground testing facility. Such a test would be the seventh of its kind and the first since 2017.

This story is based in part on wire service reports.

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