North Korea has test-fired more weapons, including one thought to be an intercontinental ballistic missile, shortly after US President Joe Biden left Asia following a trip in which he agreed to new measures to deter the nuclear-armed state.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the three missiles were fired in less than an hour from the Sunan area of the North’s capital, Pyongyang, where its international airport has become a hub for missile tests.
Wednesday’s first launch appeared to be an ICBM, while a second unidentified missile appears to have failed mid-flight, the South said.
The third was a short-range ballistic missile, it said.
North Korea has conducted a flurry of missile launches this year, from hypersonic weapons to test firing its largest ICBMs for the first time in nearly five years.
It also appears to be preparing for what would be its first nuclear test since 2017.
US and South Korean officials had recently warned North Korea appeared ready for another weapons test, possibly during Mr Biden’s visit, which was his first trip to Asia as president and included a summit with South Korea’s new leader Yoon Suk-yeol in Seoul.
Mr Yoon, who took office on May 10, convened his first meeting of the national security council, which strongly condemned the latest launch as a “grave provocation”.
Mr Yoon ordered the aides to strengthen the US extended deterrence and combined defence posture as agreed with Mr Biden, his office said.
“North Korea’s continued provocations will only result in even stronger, faster South Korea-US deterrence, and bring deeper isolation upon itself,” Yoon’s government said in a separate statement.
A White House official said Mr Biden, who departed Japan on Tuesday evening, had been briefed on the launches and would continue to receive updates.
Japan reported at least two launches, but acknowledged there may have been more.
One of the missiles flew a distance of about 750 kilometres to a maximum altitude of 50km and appeared to be capable of shifting its trajectory in flight, Japan’s defence minister said. Another travelled about 300km.
The US military’s Indo-Pacific Command said it was aware of “multiple” launches.
They highlighted the “destabilising impact of the DPRK’s illicit weapons program” but did not pose an immediate threat, it said in a statement, using the initials of North Korea’s official name.
In Seoul over the weekend, Mr Biden and Mr Yoon agreed to hold bigger military drills and deploy more US strategic assets if necessary to deter North Korea’s intensifying weapons tests.
But they also offered to send COVID-19 vaccines to North Korea as the isolated country battles its first confirmed outbreak, and called on Pyongyang to return to diplomacy.
There had been no response from Pyongyang to the diplomatic overtures or offers of aid, Mr Biden said at the time.
The waning hours of Mr Biden’s visit to the region also saw Russian and Chinese bombers flying joint patrols near Japanese and South Korean air defence zones on Tuesday in a pointed farewell.