The US military confirmed on Wednesday (April 5) nuclear-armed North Korea had fired a medium-range ballistic missile, finding it posed no threat to North America and vowing to work closely with its regional allies.
Any launch of objects using the ballistic missile technology is a violation of UN Security Council resolutions but the North has defied the ban as infringement of its sovereign rights to self defence and the pursuit of space exploration.
North Korea attempted to launch a ballistic missile two weeks ago from its east coast and earlier in March fired four missiles towards Japan, some of which came as close as 300 km to its coast.
The reclusive state has also conducted two nuclear weapons tests since January 2016.
The US military’s Pacific Command (Pacom) said initial assessments indicated Wednesday’s launch was of a KN-15 medium-range ballistic missile, which would be the same kind North Korea test-launched in February.
South Korea’s defence ministry said the projectile was fired into the East Sea, or Sea of Japan, and flew about 60km.
“The military is keeping a close watch over North Korea’s provocative moves and maintaining a high defence posture”, it said.
The North is believed to be developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can hit the United States and its leader, Kim Jong Un, has vowed to test-launch one at any time.
Experts and officials in the South and the United States believe Pyongyang is still some time away from mastering all the technology needed for an operational ICBM system, such as re-entry of the atmosphere and subsequent missile guidance.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the North’s missile launch was “extremely problematic” and Tokyo has lodged a strong protest against its nuclear-armed neighbour.
South Korea’s presidential Blue House called a National Security Council meeting to review the situation.
Topping the agenda of the US-China summit in Florida this week will be whether US President Donald Trump will make good on his threat to use crucial trade ties with China to pressure Beijing to do more to rein in Pyongyang.
A senior US White House official said Trump wanted to work with China and described the discussions over North Korea as a test for the US-Chinese relationship.
Trump wants China to do more to exert its economic influence over unpredictable Pyongyang to restrain its nuclear and missile programmes, while Beijing has said it does not have that kind of influence.
China said on Wednesday it saw no link between North Korea’s latest missile launch and the upcoming summit.
When asked about the launch at a regular press briefing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said China is urging all relevant parties to practice restraint and to refrain from escalating the situation.