North Korea test fires multiple missiles as Biden leaves Asia
North Korea fired three missiles, including one thought to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) on Wednesday, South Korea said. South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the three missiles were fired in less than an hour, between 6 am and 7 am, from the Sunan area of the capital city Pyongyang. Its international airport has become a hub of missile tests, lately.
- The suspected launches came after the United States (US) President Joe Biden completed his trip to Asia, where he reaffirmed the commitment to defend allies in face of the North's growing nuclear threat.
- The North's long-range missile program is aimed at obtaining the ability to launch nuclear strikes on the mainland US.
- With this, North Korea resumed its weapons launch after about two weeks.
South Korea subsequently beefed up its surveillance posture and maintained military readiness in close coordination with the United States. South Korean President Yoon Seok-youl, who assumed office on May 10, also called a National Security Council meeting to discuss North Korea's launches. Yoon ordered the aides to strengthen the US extended deterrence and combined defense posture as agreed with Biden, his office said.
Biden, who was in Seoul over the weekend, and Yoon agreed to hold bigger military drills and deploy more US strategic assets if necessary to deter North Korea's intensifying tests. Biden had been briefed on the launches and would continue to receive updates, a White House official said. "North's continued provocations will only result in even stronger, faster South Korea-US deterrence," Yoon's government stated.
During his trip, Biden said, "We are prepared for anything North Korea does." Asked if he had a message for the North's leader, Kim Jong-un, Biden quipped, "Hello. Period." Biden, who also traveled to Japan and met with PM Fumio Kishida, vowed to work closely to address North's nuclear and ballistic programs. The two addressed China's "increasingly coercive" behavior in the Indo-Pacific region.
North Korea completed the 17th round of missile firings this year. In March, it conducted the first flight test of an ICBM since November 2017. However, the South's military said the North might have fired a smaller Hwasong-15 ICBM, it previously tested in 2017. Experts believe North's testing was aimed at modernizing its arsenal and applying pressure on its rivals to wrest sanctions relief.