South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol arrives at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo, Thursday, March 16, 2023.

South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol arrives at Haneda International Airport in Tokyo, Thursday, March 16, 2023. (Akifumi Ishikawa/Stars and Stripes)

CAMP HUMPHREYS, South Korea — North Korea fired a long-range ballistic missile off its eastern coast Thursday morning, its third such launch this week, and just ahead of a rare summit between the South Korean and Japanese leaders, according to the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.

The Joint Chiefs detected a long-range ballistic missile launched at a high angle from Pyongyang’s Sunan area at 7:10 a.m., they said in a message to news agencies. The missile was said to have landed in the East Sea, or Sea of Japan, after flying more than 620 miles.

The missile is a “serious provocation that undermines peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula, as well as the international community,” the message said.

North Korea last fired two short-range ballistic missiles on Tuesday. It also launched two cruise missiles from a submarine on Sunday, according to the regime’s state-run Korean Central News Agency. The North has fired eight ballistic missiles so far this year.

The U.N. Security Council in 2006 barred North Korea from conducting ballistic missile tests.

Thursday’s launch comes the same day as South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol’s trip to Tokyo, where he will meet with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to discuss issues ranging from North Korean threats to economic supply chains.

Yoon’s visit marks the first time in 12 years a South Korean president has visited Japan for a bilateral meeting. Then-President Lee Myung-bak traveled to Tokyo in 2011 for a summit with then-Prime Minister Yoshihiko Noda.

Yoon pledged to build ties with neighboring Japan during his presidency and on March 6 announced a decision to resolve its forced-labor victim dispute with Tokyo.

North Korea still views Japan as a colonial-era enemy and has repeatedly threatened the country in statements carried by KCNA.

The launches also come as the United States and South Korea conduct their largest joint military drills in five years. The allies kicked off the 11-day Freedom Shield exercise on Monday, which Seoul has described as a defensive drill.

North Korea has frequently described the joint military drills as a declaration of war and a rehearsal of an invasion of its country.

South Korea’s Ministry of National Defense will conduct the joint drills regardless of additional “provocations” from the North, it said in a statement Tuesday.

David Choi is based in South Korea and reports on the U.S. military and foreign policy. He served in the U.S. Army and California Army National Guard. He graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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