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North Korea Fires Suspected Ballistic Missile Off East Coast

(Bloomberg) — North Korea fired a suspected ballistic missile on Saturday, the Japan Coast Guard said, continuing to ratchet up tensions after a record number of launches in 2022.

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The suspected ballistic missile flew towards waters off its east coast, Yonhap News reported separately. Further details were not immediately available.

Pyongyang fired three short range ballistic missiles on Dec. 31 and shot off one more in the opening hours of the first day of 2023.

Last year, Kim Jong Un’s regime test fired more than 70 ballistic missiles, the most in his decade in power and in defiance of United Nations resolutions that prohibit the launches. He has stepped up provocations in recent months in a display of anger at joint military drills in the region by the US and its allies, South Korea and Japan.

Kim pledged to increase his nuclear arsenal in the new year to stifle US and South Korean hostile acts, in a policy-setting address released on Jan. 1 where he left almost no opening for a return to long-stalled disarmament talks.

Kim Jong Un Puts New ICBM, And a Potential Heir, on Parade

The latest launch comes after North Korea put on its biggest display of intercontinental ballistic missiles designed to deliver an atomic strike on the US during a military parade in Pyongyang earlier this month. Kim oversaw the festivities and brought along his daughter — signaling that there’s another generation ready to take over the Cold War’s last continuous family dynasty and it will depend on nuclear weapons for its survival.

Kim has been modernizing his inventory of missiles over the past several years to make them easier to hide, quicker to deploy and more difficult to shoot down. Over the past several months, he has tested missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons to South Korea and Japan, as well as firing off intercontinental ballistic missiles with ranges to hit the American mainland.

North Korea on Nov. 18 test-fired an ICBM with Kim’s daughter on hand for the launch, marking her first official appearance in state media.

North Korea may soon raise regional tensions even higher with its first nuclear test since 2017. The US, South Korea and Japan have said for months that Pyongyang appears ready to test a device at any time and the three have pledged stern and coordinated punishments if Kim goes ahead with an atomic test.

But the North Korean leader is finding space to ramp up provocations and conduct tit-for-tat military moves against the US and its allies as President Joe Biden focuses on Russia’s war in Ukraine.

The US push to isolate Vladimir Putin, coupled with increasing animosity towards China, has allowed Kim to strengthen his nuclear deterrent without fear of facing more sanctions at the UN Security Council.

There’s almost no chance Russia or China, which have veto power at the council, would support any measures against North Korea, as they did in 2017 following a series of weapons tests that prompted former President Donald Trump to warn of “fire and fury.”

–With assistance from Sohee Kim and Gareth Allan.

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