North Korea marked its “Military First” holiday with mass dancing, outdoor concerts and boasts of a successful submarine-launched ballistic missile test it hopes will serve as a warning to Washington and Seoul to stop holding joint military exercises Pyongyang sees as a dress rehearsal for invasion.
Television news broadcasts and the front pages of morning newspapers yesterday showed images of the launch, conducted in the early hours the day before. The test sent a Pukguksong missile soaring from a submerged position off the North’s port city of Sinpo. It flew an estimated 310 miles toward the seas around Japan, the longest distance it has yet achieved in a submarine launch.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un was shown smiling and hugging officials after watching the test from an observation deck. He was quoted by state media as calling it the “success of all successes”, though it brought immediate condemnation from the US and the North’s neighbours.
Launching long-range ballistic missiles from submarines is stealthier than land launching. Having that capability could significantly strengthen Pyongyang’s ability to conduct strikes on US positions in South Korea, and possibly on US bases in Japan as well.
The test came as the US and South Korea are conducting their annual, 12-day Ulchi Freedom Guardian exercises south of the Demilitarised Zone.
Though the North has protested such exercises for decades, prompting regular spikes in tensions on the divided peninsula, Pyongyang has been particularly alarmed by reports that the manoeuvres have recently started to include training for an invasion of the North and precision strikes, or “beheading operations”, against its top leaders.
North Korea’s missile and nuclear weapons development programmes have brought heavy international sanctions down on its head, but it says they are justified because of the threat posed by the US and South Korea.
“They are not military exercises, but war preparations to invade our country,” said Kim Kyong Ik, a 44-year-old Pyongyang resident. “Our country is getting more prosperous and they don’t like that, so they are stepping up their moves to stifle us.”
He said South Korea should “wake up and kick the Americans out”.
The United Nations Security Council agreed at an emergency meeting requested by the US and Japan to consider issuing a statement on the missile launch.