• Kyodo, Reuters

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The government said Tuesday it has lodged a protest with North Korea over the reclusive state’s launch of ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast earlier in the day.

The latest launch, following earlier ballistic missile tests, is “a clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions,” the government said in a statement, referring to the U.N. decision banning North Korea from developing nuclear and missile technologies.

“It is an extremely problematic act also from the standpoint of securing the safety of airplanes and vessels. Japan has lodged a stern protest to North Korea,” it said. A government official said the protest was made through diplomatic channels in Beijing.

No damage has been confirmed to airplanes and vessels in nearby areas, the government said.

“Japan will urge North Korea to exercise restraint through close coordination with the United States, South Korea and other related countries, at levels such as at the U.N. Security Council,” Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a press conference.

Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters Japan, which chairs the U.N. Security Council this month, is mulling issuing a statement condemning North Korea’s missile launch and urging it to halt its missile development program.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea launched three ballistic missiles, presumed to be Scud or Rodong types, into the sea off its east coast Tuesday morning.

Two of the missiles seem to have flown some 500 to 600 km (between 300-400 miles) before falling into the Sea of Japan, the JCS said, adding that the trajectory of the third remains unclear and further analysis is being made.

The Scud missile is capable of reaching almost all of South Korea, while the Rodong has an estimated range of up to 1,300 km (800 miles), making it capable of hitting targets in the whole of South Korea and parts of Japan.

North Korea has fired both types numerous times in recent years, an indication that unlike recent launches that were seen as efforts by the North to improve its missile capability, Tuesday’s were meant as a show of force.

“This smells political rather than technical to me,” said Melissa Hanham, a senior research associate at the U.S.-based Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California.

“I think the number and distance of the missiles lets them remind the ROK (Republic of Korea) of what they are up against,” she said, referring to South Korea by its official name.

The launches came after the South Korean and U.S. governments announced earlier this month their decision to set up the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in the South to counter North Korea’s nuclear and missile threats.

“North Korea is strongly opposed to the decision to deploy” the THAAD system, Japanese Defense Minister Gen Nakatani told reporters. “The possibility of additional military action by North Korea as a countermeasure (to the deployment) cannot be ruled out.”

On the missile launch, Nakatani said, “It is a provocative act that undermines the peace and stability of the region and the international community. It is definitely intolerable.”

North Korea has test-fired a series of ballistic missiles in recent months, in defiance of United Nations Security Council resolutions, including intermediate-range missiles in June and a submarine-launched missile this month.

“In addition to the basic goal of enhancing missile units’ readiness to fight, it might be a way of reminding their southern neighbors that the site chosen for a THAAD battery in South Korea is within reach,” Joshua Pollack, editor of the U.S.-based Nonproliferation Review, said of Tuesday’s launches.

North Korea conducted its fourth test of a nuclear device in January, and activity at its nuclear test site has increased recently, according to media reports in South Korea and Japan citing government officials, as well as a report by Washington-based North Korea monitoring project 38 North.

Following the latest nuclear test and a February space rocket launch that was widely viewed as a missile test in disguise, the U.N. Security Council imposed tough new resolutions that further isolate North Korea.

While China supported tougher sanctions against its neighbor and ally North Korea, it has sharply criticized the decision to base a THAAD battery in South Korea, saying the move will destabilize the security balance in the region.

China’s Foreign Ministry did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday’s missile launches.

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