July 12th, 2024

North Korea launches a ballistic missile toward the sea in its first missile test this year

By Hyung-jin Kim, The Associated Press on January 14, 2024.

In this photo provided by the North Korean government, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, center, inspects as he tours munitions factories in North Korea on Jan. 8-9, 2024. Independent journalists were not given access to cover the event depicted in this image distributed by the North Korean government. The content of this image is as provided and cannot be independently verified. Korean language watermark on image as provided by source reads: "KCNA" which is the abbreviation for Korean Central News Agency. (Korean Central News Agency/Korea News Service via AP)

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea fired a ballistic missile toward the sea on Sunday, its neighbors said, in its first missile launch this year, as the North is expected to further raise regional animosities in an election year for its rivals South Korea and the United States.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea launched an unidentified ballistic missile off the North’s east coast but gave no further details like how far the weapon flew.

Japan’s Defense Ministry also said it detected a possible ballistic missile launch by North Korea. Japan’s Coast Guard, quoting the Defense Ministry, said the suspected missile was believed to have landed in the ocean.

It was the North’s first missile launch in 2024. The last time North Korea performed a public missile launch was Dec. 18, when it test-fired its Hwasong-18 solid-fueled intercontinental ballistic missile, the North’s most advanced weapon. The Hwasong-18 is designed to strike the mainland U.S.

In recent days, North Korea has also been escalating its warlike, inflammatory rhetoric against its rivals. Leader Kim Jong Un, during visits last week to munitions factories, called South Korea “our principal enemy” and threatened to annihilate it if provoked, the North’s state media said Wednesday.

Sunday’s launch came days after North Korea fired a barrage of artillery shells near the disputed western sea boundary with South Korea, prompting South Korea to conduct similar firing exercises in the same area. The site is where the navies of the two Koreas have fought three bloody sea battles since 1999 and attacks blamed on North Korea killed 50 South Koreans in 2010.

Experts say Kim will likely further raise animosities by conducting more missile tests and possibly launching limited physical attacks on South Korea to try to raise the stakes in the standoff with his rivals and influence the results of South Korea’s parliamentary elections in April and the U.S. presidential election in November.

Experts say Kim likely wants to see South Korean liberals pursue rapprochement with North Korea while maintaining a parliamentary majority status and for former U.S. President Donald Trump to be elected again. They say Kim might believe he could win U.S. concessions like sanctions relief if Trump returns to the White House.

In a key ruling party meeting in late December, Kim vowed to expand his nuclear arsenal and launch additional spy satellites to cope with what he called U.S.-led confrontational moves.


Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.

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