SEOUL, South Korea — The U.S. military said Tuesday that North Korea had launched “multiple” ballistic missiles the previous day, and four of them landed just 200 miles from Japan’s coast in the Sea of Japan.
“There were four that landed. There may be a higher number of launches that we’re not commenting on. But four landed and splashed in the Sea of Japan,” Pentagon spokesman Jeff Davis said. He said the missiles flew about 600 miles from their launch point in northwestern North Korea.
He said the launches appeared to be in reaction to huge military drills by Washington and South Korea that Pyongyang insists are an invasion rehearsal.
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The exact type of missiles fired was not immediately clear, but CBS News’ David Martin says they were not intercontinental ballistic missiles.
The incident will be viewed as a provocation by the Trump administration in Washington, which is working on its policy for North Korea.
A spokesperson for China’s foreign ministry, Geng Shuang, told reporters, “China opposes North Korea conducting the relevant launch activities in violation of the Security Council resolution. We also noted that the U.S. and South Korea are currently engaged in a large-scale joint military exercise that targets North Korea. Under the current circumstances, all sides concerned should be restrained and refrain from irritating each other or taking any actions that could escalate regional tensions.”
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said on a conference call with reporters Monday, “Definitely, we are seriously worried – these are the sort of actions that lead to a rise in tension in the region and of course in this situation, traditionally, Moscow calls for restraint from all sides,” the Reuters news agency reports.
Pyongyang has staged a series of missile test-launches of various ranges in recent months, including a new intermediate-range missile in February; it also conducted two nuclear tests last year. The ramped-up tests come as leader Kim Jong Un pushes for a nuclear and missile program that can deter what he calls U.S. and South Korean hostility toward the North.
There have been widespread worries that the North will conduct an ICBM test that, when perfected, could in theory reach the U.S. mainland. Washington would consider such a capability a major threat.
U.S. national security adviser H.R. McMaster and senior South Korean presidential official Kim Kwan-jin held a phone conversation after the missile firings. The two condemned the launches and agreed to boost cooperation to get the North to face more effective sanctions and pressure, according to South Korea’s presidential office.
Japanese officials said three of the four missiles landed in the 200-nautical-mile offshore area where Tokyo has sovereign rights for exploring and exploiting resources.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that Monday’s launches were made from the Tongchang-ri area in North Pyongan province. The area is the home of the North’s Sohae rocket launch site where it has conducted prohibited long-range rocket launches in recent years.
The projectiles were launched shortly after 7:30 a.m., the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, according to South Korea’s Yonhap news agency.
“We are conducting an analysis on the projectiles to determine their type and other specifications,” the Joint Chief of Staff said, according to Yonhap. “It will take a while before we come up with a final analysis (based on U.S. satellite data).”
Seoul and Washington call their military drills on the Korean Peninsula, which remains in a technical state of war because the 1950-53 Korean War ended with an armistice and not a peace treaty, defensive and routine.
The North hates the military drills, which run until late April and which analysts say force its impoverished military to respond with expensive deployments and drills of their own. An unidentified spokesman for the North’s General Staff of the Korean People’s Army said last week that Pyongyang’s reaction to the southern drills would be the toughest ever but didn’t elaborate
The United States has 28,500 troops stationed in South Korea, and 50,000 in Japan, as a deterrent against a potential aggression from the North.