North Korea launches ballistic missile after threatening ‘fiercer’ response to US alliance

North Korea launched a ballistic missile on Thursday, hours after threatening a “fiercer” response to joint military manoeuvres and a security accord by the US and its allies.

South Korea‘s military said the ballistic missile was launched from the North’s east coast Wonsan area at 10.48am local time and landed in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

Condemnation of the launch came swiftly from the militaries of South Korea, the US and Japan, days after the three countries agreed to work together to strengthen deterrence of the North.

It was Pyongyang’s first missile launch in eight days and the latest in a resurgent testing programme that the North claims is in response to joint military drills by the US and South Korea.

North Korea previously said some of the tests were simulations of nuclear attacks on South Korean and US targets. Many experts say North Korea would eventually want to enhance its nuclear capability to wrest bigger concessions from its rivals.

Earlier on Thursday, North Korean foreign minister Choe Son Hui warned that the recent US-South Korea-Japan accord on the North would leave tensions on the Korean Peninsula “more unpredictable.”

Ms Choe’s statement was North Korea‘s first official response to president Joe Biden’s trilateral summit with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts on the sidelines of a regional gathering on Sunday in Cambodia.

The minister did not say how Pyongyang might respond but warned “the US will be well aware that it is gambling, for which it will certainly regret”. She said the more the US and allies “intensify provocative and bluffing military activities … the fiercer [the North’s] military counteraction will be”.

South Korea‘s defence ministry responded later Thursday that the purpose of the trilateral summit was to coordinate a joint response to curb and deter advancing nuclear and missile threats by North Korea.

North Korea has steadfastly maintained its recent weapons testing activities are legitimate military counteractions to US-South Korean military drills, which it views as a practice to launch attacks on the North. Washington and Seoul have said their exercises are defensive in nature.

In the past several years, annual military training between Seoul and Washington had been scaled back or cancelled to support now-dormant diplomacy with North Korea and guard against the Covid-19 pandemic. But in recent months, South Korean and US troops have expanded their regular exercises and resumed trilateral training with Japan in response to North Korea‘s push to enlarge its nuclear and missile arsenals.

There have been concerns that North Korea might conduct its first nuclear test in five years as its next major step toward bolstering its military capability against the United States and its allies.

Additional reporting by agencies