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North Korea Fired Ballistic Missile Toward East Sea, Yonhap Says

(Bloomberg) — North Korea test-fired a suspected ballistic missile, according to Yonhap News, adding to its barrage of launches in the past month that included two rockets designed to deliver a nuclear warhead to the US mainland.

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The missile was fired Sunday toward waters to the east of the Korean peninsula, Yonhap said, citing South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The missile is expected to have fallen outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, NHK reported, citing unnamed people related to Japan’s defense ministry. Further details of the launch were not immediately available.

Kim Jong Un’s regime last week fired what it said was a Hwasong-17 ICBM hours before South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol went to Japan for a summit to repair ties and improve security cooperation. Kim said that launch was meant to “strike fear into the enemies” of North Korea as the US steps up its joint military exercises with South Korea.

Large-scale military drills by the US and its ally this month — called “Freedom Shield” and lasting Mar. 13 to Mar. 23 — are designed to bolster defenses against Kim’s arsenal.

North Korea had already shot 12 ballistic missiles since Feb. 18 that included two ICBMs and what appeared to be a new close-range ballistic missile designed to hit US bases in South Korea. The tests also included two cruise missiles fired from a submarine, which appeared to be another first.

Kim Yo Jong, the influential sister of the leader, has warned Pyongyang would turn the Pacific into a “firing range” if the US continued drills. She also hinted the state could start testing whether its warhead designs can withstand the heat of re-entering the atmosphere.

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North Korea has demonstrated its missiles could fly as far as the US mainland but there are questions as to whether the warheads would be able to stay intact to reach their targets.

Read: Japan Needs South Korea to Defend Against Kim’s Missiles

North Korea put on its biggest display of ICBMs during a military parade in Pyongyang in February. Kim oversaw the event, with his preteen daughter on hand to watch from a seat of honor. Her attendance signaled there’s another generation ready to take over the Cold War’s last continuous family dynasty.

Last year, North Korea fired more than 70 ballistic missiles, the most during Kim’s decade in power, as it modernizes its arsenal and increases its ability to deliver a nuclear strike against the US and its allies. Kim could even ratchet up tensions higher with his first nuclear test since 2017.

The North Korean leader pledged to exponentially increase his atomic arsenal in the new year to stifle what he called US and South Korean hostile acts, in a policy-setting address released on Jan. 1 where he left almost no opening for a return to long-stalled disarmament talks.

The US and South Korea in late January pledged to step up the scope of their joint exercises at a meeting of their defense ministers in Seoul. The drills had been scaled down or halted under former President Donald Trump, who was hoping the move would facilitate his nuclear negotiations with the North Korean leader.

Those talks, however, produced no concrete steps to wind down Pyongyang’s nuclear program, which has only grown larger as disarmament talks sputtered. In recent months, Japan has joined in some of the drills that have included the US and South Korea, a move that angered Pyongyang, which has responded with shows of force to signal its displeasure.

(Updates with additional details and background)

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