Nuclear-armed North Korea launched an apparent ballistic missile for the second time this year, Japan’s Defense Ministry said Tuesday, with Seoul calling the firing an improvement on what Pyongyang claimed was a test of a “hypersonic” weapon less than a week ago.

The missile was believed to have traveled about 700 kilometers and landed outside of Japan’s exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 nautical miles (370 km) from its coast into the Sea of Japan, the ministry said, adding that Japan was continuing to analyze the launch with the United States.

Speaking to reporters earlier the day, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called the North’s repeated missile tests in recent months “extremely regrettable,” adding that Japan would “strengthen monitoring” of Pyongyang’s military activities.

Seoul also condemned the launch of the apparent ballistic missile, which is thought to have been fired from the northern province of Jagang bordering China — the same area from which last week’s missile was tested — South Korea’s Yonhap news agency reported, citing an unidentified source.

South Korea’s military said Tuesday’s missile had traveled 700 km at a maximum height of 60 km but flew at a top speed of Mach 10, calling it “more advanced” than last week’s test.

The U.S. military’s Indo-Pacific Command also said it was aware of the launch and reaffirmed that its “commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remains ironclad.”

The latest launch came as six countries, including the United States and Japan, urged North Korea to cease “destabilizing actions” in a joint statement at the United Nations.

The six called for Pyongyang “to refrain from further destabilizing actions … and engage in meaningful dialogue towards our shared goal of complete denuclearization.”

“These actions increase the risk of miscalculation and escalation and pose a significant threat to regional stability,” U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. Linda Thomas-Greenfield was quoted as saying, reading the joint statement ahead of a closed-door Security Council meeting on last week’s launch.

“Each missile launch serves not only to advance the DPRK’s own capabilities, but to expand the suite of weapons available for export to its illicit arms clients and dealers around the world,” she added, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

North Korea last week said that it successfully tested a new “hypersonic missile,” potentially giving the isolated country another weapon that could evade missile defenses.

South Korea, however, has poured cold water on the North’s claims, dismissing them as “exaggerated” and saying the missile was a normal ballistic weapon that could be intercepted.

Vann Van Diepen, a career intelligence analyst and former U.S. assistant secretary of state for international security and nonproliferation, said the North “clearly enjoys the sense of military threat and technological prowess conveyed by having ‘hypersonic missiles,’” but downplayed the utility of the weapons.

The missile tested last week “would only make a niche contribution to the North’s existing large ballistic missile force, primarily in providing another option to evade missile defenses,” he wrote on the 38 North website.

Still, last week’s test — the second claimed launch of a hypersonic weapon in just over three months — was expected to give more ammunition to those in Japan pushing for the country to acquire the capability to strike enemy bases.

In recent months, North Korea has tested a range of increasingly powerful new weapons systems in addition to its latest submarine-launched ballistic missile. 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 — including Kishida and Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi — openly suggesting Japan acquire a strike capability.

Kishi on Tuesday reiterated the government’s stance that Japan is continuing to work to bolster its defenses in response to North Korea’s ever-improving nuclear and missile programs, and that a number of options are on the table, including acquiring a strike capability.

Although Kishida has said he is open to an “unconditional” meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, 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 Kim.

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.”

Critics have called the Biden approach flawed, with some comparing it to the Obama administration’s policy of “strategic patience,” under which Washington ratcheted up sanctions and denied engagement in hopes that Pyongyang would return to the table to deal away its nuclear weapons.

“Second North Korea ballistic missile launch in 2022. We are seeing the results of Biden’s ‘engagement only’ policy AKA ‘strategic patience 2.0,’” Anthony Ruggiero, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, wrote on Twitter after Tuesday’s launch.

In a time of both misinformation and too much information, quality journalism is more crucial than ever.
By subscribing, you can help us get the story right.