North Korea launched an apparent medium-range ballistic missile Sunday in what Prime Minister Shinzo Abe termed a “challenge to the world.”
The U.S. Pacific Command said it detected and tracked the launch at 4:59 p.m. of a “medium-range ballistic missile” from near Pukchang, in the central portion of North Korea. It said the missile was tracked until it landed in the Sea of Japan.
According to the South Korean military, the missile flew some 500 km (over 300 miles), reaching an altitude of about 560 km (350 miles), the Yonhap news agency quoted a South Korean military official as saying.
The launch was the latest in a spate of missile tests that have unnerved the United States and its Asian allies.
Abe said the country’s repeated missile launches “trample on the efforts by the international community” to work toward a peaceful solution to the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
Later Sunday, Defense Minister Tomomi Inada said the missile fell in an area about 400 km from the Oki Islands in Shimane Prefecture and about 700 km from the Oga Peninsula in Akita Prefecture.
The altitude of about 560 km was not “unusually high” for a ballistic missile, Inada was quoted as saying by Kyodo News.
The government’s top spokesman, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga, told an emergency news conference earlier the same day that the missile landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, and that Tokyo “will never tolerate repeated provocations” by the North.
The launch “clearly violates” resolutions issued by the United Nations Security Council, and Tokyo has already filed a protest with the North Korean government, he said.
In response to the test, the government did not activate the J-Alert emergency advisory system, according to public broadcaster NHK. The nationwide system provides rapid alerts from the central government to municipal authorities to facilitate speedy evacuations and other actions in the event of a disaster.
The launch is the 11th test-firing by the country this year, according to a database compiled by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
White House officials traveling in Saudi Arabia with U.S. President Donald Trump said the missile had a shorter range than those launched during North Korea’s most recent tests, media reports said.
The missile test was the second in a week and is likely to complicate plans by new South Korean President Moon Jae-in as he looks for ways to reduce tensions on the peninsula. Moon pledged during his campaign to take a more moderate approach to dealing with Pyongyang.
In a statement, the Foreign Ministry in Seoul said the tests are “reckless and irresponsible actions throwing cold water over the hopes and desires of this new government and the international community for denuclearization and peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
North Korea successfully launched a new intermediate-range missile on May 14 that experts say points to a significant advance in the reclusive nation’s progress toward mastering the technology needed to hit the continental United States with a long-range, nuclear-tipped missile.
The North has bragged that the missile test was aimed at verifying its capability of carrying “a large-size heavy nuclear warhead.” That missile was believed to have flown for about 30 minutes, reaching an altitude of more than 2,000 km (1,245 miles), according to the Defense Ministry in Tokyo. It was likely conducted at a steep “lofted” trajectory, hitting the highest-ever altitude recorded by the ministry.
Experts said the missile would have flown a distance of some 4,500 km if launched on a standard trajectory, enabling Pyongyang to reliably strike U.S. sites on Guam, some 3,400 km from North Korea.
Last month, the North conducted two tests of apparent intermediate-range missiles from a site near its eastern coast, but both launches ended in failure. It launched another missile on April 29 that failed just after liftoff.
There has been mounting speculation that Pyongyang would conduct a test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM)after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un used a New Year’s Day address to claim that the country was in the “final stages” of developing such a weapon.
Duyeon Kim, a visiting senior fellow at the Korean Peninsula Future Forum in Seoul, said Sunday’s test was “another reminder that Pyongyang is bent on achieving a fully operational nuclear-missile capability regardless of the day-to-day occurrences in the world.”
Kim said that while the motivations for the latest test-firing was unclear, the launch was still an early challenge to South Korea’s Moon and his coordination with the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump.
Trump has vowed that a launch of an ICBM by Pyongyang “won’t happen” on his watch.
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