North Korea fires ballistic missile as top US diplomat visits Seoul 0

North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Monday, Seoul’s military said, as US Secretary of State Antony Blinken visited South Korea to meet top officials and attend a democracy summit.

Blinken is in Seoul for the third Summit for Democracy, an initiative of US President Joe Biden, which the South is hosting this week, and is set to meet his Korean counterpart on the sidelines for talks.

Key security allies Washington and Seoul wrapped up one of their major annual joint military training exercises last week, prompting angry retorts and tit-for-tat drills from nuclear-armed Pyongyang.

“North Korea fired an unspecified ballistic missile toward the East Sea,” Joint Chiefs of Staff said, referring to the body of water also known as the Sea of Japan.

Japan also confirmed the launch, with the Japan Coast Guard saying the objects appeared to have already fallen.

The launch comes just days after the annual Freedom Shield, which this year involved double the number of troops, ended Thursday. The 11 days of joint exercises were aimed at strengthening South Korean and American deterrence against the North’s nuclear and missile threats.

Pyongyang this month warned that Seoul and Washington would pay a “dear price” over the Freedom Shield drills, and later announced that North Korean leader Kim Jong Un had guided an artillery unit it says was capable of striking the South Korean capital.

The nuclear-armed North has long condemned joint US-South Korea military drills, calling them rehearsals for an invasion. It has carried out weapons tests in the past as a response to previous joint exercises of this nature.

Monday’s ballistic missile test is the North’s second this year, after Pyongyang launched one tipped with a manoeuvrable hypersonic warhead on January 14.

Blinken landed Sunday afternoon ahead of the democracy summit, which runs from March 18 to 20 and will bring together government officials, NGOs and civil society members.

Source: AFP