North Korea fired a suspected ballistic missile off its east coast on Wednesday, authorities in Japan and South Korea said, in the nuclear-armed country’s first show of force this year.
Japan’s coast guard, which first reported the launch, said the projectile could be a ballistic missile but did not provide further details.
“Since last year, North Korea has repeatedly launched missiles, which is very regrettable,” Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.
Defence Minister Nobuo Kishi told reporters the suspected missile had flown for about about 500 kilometres (310.7 miles) and landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said that the missile was launched eastwards at about 8:10am (23:10 GMT) from a land-based platform, according to the Yonhap news agency.
“For additional information, the intelligence authorities of South Korea and the United States are conducting a detailed analysis,” the Yonhap news agency reported JCS saying in a text message that was sent to journalists.
The test comes days after the conclusion of a key party meeting in North Korea that focused mainly on the pandemic-hit economy, although leader Kim Jong Un promised to continue to bolster the country’s defence but did not specifically mention weaponry.
Writing on Twitter, Ankit Panda said the launch of a single missile could indicate a developmental test.
“Some signs that this could be something new,” the Senior Fellow at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace wrote.
Pyongyang carried out a series of missile launches last year, and in October said it tested a “new type” of submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM). It was the first test of an SLBM since 2019.
The country is banned from carrying out ballistic missile tests under United Nations sanctions.
Call for dialogue
Denuclearisation talks have been stalled since the collapse of a high profile second summit in Hanoi between Kim and Donald Trump, who was then United States president.
South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, whose term as president comes to an end in May, is urging Pyongyang to return to negotiations and in his New Year address said he would make all efforts to secure a peace agreement on the divided peninsula.
The missile launch came a few hours before Moon attended a groundbreaking ceremony in the coastal city of Goseong near the border with the North for a rail line he hopes will eventually connect the two Koreas.
In remarks at the ceremony, Moon acknowledged the launch raised concerns of tensions and damage to inter-Korean relations, and called for North Korea to make sincere efforts to resume dialogue.
“We should not give up the hope for dialogue in order to fundamentally overcome this situation,” he said. “If both Koreas work together and build trust, peace would be achieved one day.”