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North Korea fired three ballistic missiles towards its eastern waters on Thursday, South Korean defense officials say.
The reported provocation comes as President Biden is preparing to visit South Korea and Japan late next week, where he will “discuss opportunities to deepen our vital security relationships” the White House says.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a brief statement that the missiles flew toward North Korea’s eastern waters. It gave no further details.
Japan also detected the North Korean launches.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida instructed officials to do their utmost to analyze the launch, ensure safety of aircraft and vessels in the area and take precaution and readiness for any possible emergencies, according to his office.
Thursday’s launch was North Korea’s 16th round of tests this year. They have included the North’s first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile since 2017, and there are also signs that the North is preparing to conduct its first nuclear test in five years at a remote testing ground in its northeast, according to the Associated Press.
North Korea has test-launched a spate of missiles this year in an apparent attempt to put pressure on its rivals amid stalled nuclear diplomacy.
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Earlier Thursday, North Korean state media confirmed the country’s first COVID-19 infections as leader Kim Jong Un ordered nationwide lockdowns to slow the spread of the virus. Kim also ordered officials to bolster the country’s defense posture to avoid any security vacuum.
But some experts say that despite the elevated anti-virus measures, North Korea will likely continue its weapons tests to try to strengthen national unity.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.