N Korea fires eight missiles as S Korea, US wrap up naval drills

Latest launch also comes amid signs North Korea is pressing ahead with preparations at its nuclear testing ground in Punggye-ri.

North Korea has test-fired eight short-range ballistic missiles towards the sea off its east coast, a day after South Korea and the United States wrapped up naval drills in the Philippine Sea.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missiles were fired from the Sunan area of the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, on Sunday.

Japan’s government also reported that the North had launched a suspected ballistic missile.

The launch was North Korea’s 18th round of missile tests in 2022 alone – a streak that has included the country’s first demonstrations of intercontinental ballistic missiles in nearly five years.

South Korean and US officials say there are signs that North Korea is also pressing ahead with preparations at its nuclear testing ground in the northeastern town of Punggye-ri. The North’s next nuclear test would be its seventh since 2006 and the first since it claimed to have detonated a thermonuclear bomb to fit on its ICBMs in September 2017.

Amid Pyongyang’s growing weapons capabilities, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, who took office on May 10, has agreed with US President Joe Biden to increase bilateral military drills to deter North Korea.

On Saturday, South Korean and US ships concluded three days of drills in international waters off the Japanese island of Okinawa, including air defence, anti-ship, anti-submarine, and maritime interdiction operations, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

The exercises included the USS Ronald Reagan, a 100,000-ton nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, among other major warships. The combined drills were their first involving an aircraft carrier since November 2017.

North Korea has criticised previous joint drills as an example of Washington’s continued “hostile policies” towards Pyongyang, despite its talk of diplomacy.

Sunday’s missile launch also followed a visit to Seoul by the US envoy on North Korean affairs, US Special Representative Sung Kim, who departed on Saturday.

He met his South Korean and Japanese counterparts Kim Gunn and Takehiro Funakoshi on Friday to prepare for “all contingencies” amid signs of a nuclear test.

Washington has made very clear to Pyongyang that it is open to diplomacy, Kim said during the visit, noting that he was willing to discuss items of interest to Pyongyang, such as sanctions relief.

Last week, the US called for more United Nations sanctions on North Korea over its ballistic missile launches, but China and Russia vetoed the suggestion, publicly splitting the UN Security Council on North Korea for the first time since it started punishing it in 2006, when North Korea conducted its first nuclear test.

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