The state-run Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) reported that the the U.S. spy plane entered as deep as 14 kilometers into the economic zone of North Korea. Washington thought that it was still at international airspace, given that it interprets an economic exclusion zone (EEZ) extending up to 200 nautical miles beyond a nation's territorial waters.
However, Pyongyang deemed the incident a serious violation of its sovereignty. An unnamed spokesperson of the Korean People's Army (KPA) general staff accused the U.S. of breaching their economic zone off the east coast. They also labeled the incident as "a dangerous military provocation." (Related: North Korea threatens to shoot down U.S. aircraft entering its airspace.)
The North claimed that the military spy plane crossed into its EEZ thrice between 5:38 a.m. and 6:37 a.m. on Aug. 17. The KPA stated that the EEZ is an integral "part of its territory" and warned that it was ready to take any necessary action to protect its sovereignty. This incident closely followed a similar occurrence just 20 days prior.
Moreover, KCNA said Pyongyang is considering the deployment of a missile-carrying vessel in their territory in order to prevent future intrusion by U.S. spy aircraft into the EEZ.
This incident followed a relative quiet in North Korea's ballistic missile test launches, coinciding with a heightened 11-day joint military exercise held by the U.S. and South Korea. It also occurred a day before a scheduled tripartite summit between the U.S., Japan and South Korea.
A South Korean lawmaker, citing intelligence from the country's National Intelligence Agency, speculated that Pyongyang might express its opposition to the joint exercise by launching an intercontinental ballistic missile or other forms of military protest. (Related: North Korea’s launch of multiple ballistic missiles threatens South Korea.)
Meanwhile, U.S. President Joe Biden met with South Korean President Yoon Suk-Yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida on Aug. 18. The summit held at Camp David in Maryland sought to strengthen ties between Seoul and Tokyo in the face of Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions and Beijing's increasing regional influence.
"We're opening a new era, and we're making sure that era has staying power," National Security Advisor Jake Sullivan told reporters ahead of the summit. The timing of this announcement, so soon after the aircraft incident, is likely to further exacerbate tensions in the region.
Sullivan outlined the key components of the enhanced security cooperation. These included its multiyear exercise plan with the two East Asian counties; deeper coordination and integration on ballistic missile defense; and improvements in information sharing and crisis communication.
The national security advisor also expressed concern about the relationship between North Korea and Russia, "including the technology and security relationship." Asked whether Moscow had a role in the development of Pyongyang's new Hwasong-19 intercontinental ballistic missile, Sullivan said the U.S. intelligence community is "taking a hard look" at it.
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