Nuclear-armed North Korea fired an apparent ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan, on Wednesday for its first test launch of the year, Japan and South Korea said.

The South Korean military said the test appeared to be of a single ballistic missile, the first since the North fired off a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in October.

Seoul said the missile had been fired from a site in North Korea’s northern province of Jagang, which borders China. Jagang is believed to be home to a number of nuclear weapons sites, and is the area from which the North fired what it said was a hypersonic missile last September.

Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said the missile had flown for about 500 km and landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 nautical miles (370 km) from its coast into the Sea of Japan.

Earlier, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida condemned the North’s repeated missile tests as a grave threat to Japan.

“It’s truly regrettable that North Korea has continued to launch missiles in succession since last year,” Kishida said.

The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the country was “conducting a detailed analysis” of the launch with the United States.

Some had expected Pyongyang to refrain from such shows of force ahead of the Beijing Winter Olympics due to start in February in a nod to China, its sole ally and economic lifeline.

But North Korean leader Kim Jong Un — who marked a decade in power in December — vowed at a key party meeting last week to continue building up his country’s military capabilities.

“The military environment of the Korean peninsula and the trend of the international situation getting instable day after day demand that bolstering the state defence capability be further powerfully propelled without a moment’s delay,” Kim was quoted as saying by the official Korean Central News Agency.

The report said Kim had used the meeting to order the production of powerful, modern weapons systems to improve his capabilities and called for the military to remain “faithful and obedient” to the ruling party.

That meeting, however, focused on a vow by the North Korean supreme leader to end the country’s chronic food shortages. The North is under tough U.N. sanctions over its nuclear and missile programs, but has also shuttered its borders due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In recent months, North Korea has tested a range of increasingly powerful new weapons systems in addition to its latest SLBM. These have included a long-range cruise missile believed to be capable of delivering a nuclear bomb to Japan, as well as a train-launched weapon and what the North said was a hypersonic gliding vehicle. All are believed to represent progress in Pyongyang’s quest to defeat missile defenses.

The pace of North Korean weapons testing has triggered concern in Tokyo, with top officials openly suggesting the possibility of Japan acquiring the capability to attack enemy bases.

On Wednesday, Kishi reiterated the need to bolster Japan’s defenses — including an exploration of possible strike capability — in the face of threats such as North Korea.

In October, Kishida offered similar remarks calling North Korea’s “significant” nuclear and missile technology developments “something we cannot overlook.”

The prime minister has already given instructions to his government to discuss revising the National Security Strategy, including considering the option of acquiring a strike capability.

Although Kishida has said he is open to an “unconditional” meeting with Kim, denuclearization talks between the North and the United States have been at a standstill since 2019, after then-U.S. President Donald Trump held three meetings with the North Korean leader.

Following the conclusion of a lengthy review of the United States’ North Korea policy earlier this year, Trump’s successor, President Joe Biden, has repeatedly said that his administration harbors no hostile intent toward Pyongyang and is prepared to meet unconditionally, with a goal of “the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.”

Kim, however, has condemned the U.S. offer of dialogue as a “petty trick.”

Staff writer Satoshi Sugiyama contributed to this report.

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