North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watched the successful test-firing of a hypersonic missile that hit a target in waters 1,000 kilometers away, state-run media reported Wednesday, a day after Japan and South Korea said Pyongyang had launched a suspected ballistic missile.
The official Korean Central News Agency did not specify how fast the projectile traveled, but Japan and South Korea said Tuesday it flew at 10 times the speed of sound.
It was the first time since March 2020 that Kim was reported to have watched a missile launch and Tuesday's test was North Korea's second missile launch in less than a week, after he pledged to strengthen the nation's defenses at a meeting of the ruling Workers' Party of Korea held late last year.
The hard-to-intercept missile developed by North Korea, which is banned from firing ballistic missiles under U.N. Security Council resolutions, could be capable of reaching Japan, a close security ally of the United States.
The latest test-firing was "aimed at the final verification of overall technical specifications of the developed hypersonic weapon system," KCNA said, adding Kim "appreciated the practical achievements" made by those involved in research related to the missile.
"The hypersonic glide vehicle made glide jump flight from 600 km area before making a 240 km corkscrew maneuvering from the initial launch azimuth to the target azimuth," the news agency said.
A hypersonic missile is designed to travel at more than five times the speed of sound. Given that it is difficult for existing missile defense systems to intercept such projectiles, North Korea's acquisition of hypersonic missile capabilities would raise regional security concerns.
Kim was quoted by KCNA as saying Tuesday's test-firing of the missile "brought a great success in the field of developing hypersonic weapon which is of the most important strategic significance."
The Rodong Sinmun, the mouthpiece of the ruling party, on Wednesday ran a photo of a missile in the sky.
At the first congress of the ruling party in five years in January 2021, North Korea promised to introduce a "hypersonic gliding flight warhead." Tokyo and Seoul have been wary of the possibility of Pyongyang mounting a nuclear warhead on a hypersonic missile.
Japan and South Korea have expressed regret over the North's test-firings of missiles, while the United States has said it will consult closely with allies and partners over the situation on the Korean Peninsula.
Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi on Wednesday told reporters that Pyongyang had fired one ballistic missile eastward from inland, but its trajectory was possibly irregular as it also likely flew "horizontally northward."
"If the trajectory was normal, the missile could have traveled less than 700 km, but its travel distance might actually have been longer," said Kishi, adding the government is continuing to analyze the launch and has lodged a protest with North Korea through a diplomatic channel.
China, however, has urged countries not to overreact to North Korea's missile launches, as Pyongyang's most influential economic and security ally is keen to successfully host the Beijing Winter Olympics, slated to start Feb. 4.
"Further research and assessment is needed to identify the nature of the projectile. All sides should avoid jumping to conclusions or overacting," Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Wang Wenbin told reporters in Beijing on Tuesday.
North Korea test-fired a new type of submarine-launched ballistic missile in October 2021.
Pyongyang also test-fired two short-range ballistic missiles from a rail-based system in mid-September last year and launched what its state-run media said was a newly developed hypersonic missile later the same month.
Pundits say North Korea will continue to develop missiles and weapons unless the United States provides security guarantees for Kim's rule, but negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington over denuclearization have been stalled for more than two years.
North Korea and the United States remain technically in a state of war as the 1950-1953 Korean War -- in which U.S.-led U.N. forces fought alongside the South against the North backed by China and the Soviet Union -- ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty.
Pyongyang has no diplomatic relations with Washington, Seoul or Tokyo.