North Korea fired a suspected ballistic missile Tuesday morning, the Japanese and South Korean governments said, with the second missile launch in less than a week coming after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pledged late last year to strengthen the nation's defenses.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the projectile flew at least 700 kilometers at an altitude of about 60 km at 10 times the speed of sound and appears to be an advanced version of a ballistic missile Pyongyang launched last Wednesday.
The JCS said the latest projectile was fired from the vicinity of the northern province of Jagang at around 7:27 a.m. The Japanese government said at least one projectile was fired eastward from inland around 7:25 a.m. and is estimated to have landed in the sea outside Japan's exclusive economic zone.
"Our assessment (of the projectile) is that it is a more improved version compared to the ballistic missile that was launched on Jan. 5," the JCS said in a statement.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command called the latest projectile a ballistic missile and said the United States is "consulting closely with our allies and partners."
The Japanese government said that the projectile is likely to have traveled less than 700 km, assuming it flew on a traditional ballistic missile trajectory, and that there have been no reports of damage to ships or aircraft.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida condemned the spate of North Korean actions, saying, "It is extremely regrettable that the country has repeatedly carried out missile launches."
Speaking to reporters in Tokyo, Kishida said that Japan will strengthen monitoring of North Korea's military activities and that he has instructed relevant ministers and officials to make the utmost efforts to collect information on the launch while ensuring the safety of planes and vessels in and around Japan.
Kishida also asked officials to be prepared to respond to any emergency.
The launch came after North Korean state media said the country last Wednesday successfully tested a newly developed hypersonic missile designed to travel at more than five times the speed of sound, which makes it difficult to track and intercept.
As Seoul analyzed Pyongyang's intentions behind the consecutive launches, South Korea's National Security Council held an emergency meeting and expressed "deep regret" over the latest firing.
After being briefed on the emergency meeting, South Korean President Moon Jae In showed concerns over the missile launches including the latest one ahead of South Korea's presidential election in March, according to his spokeswoman.
Japanese Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said Pyongyang has test-fired some 40 missiles since May 2019 to ramp up the development of its missile technology and stressed that Japan will boost its defenses in coordination with the United States and South Korea.
"We will consider all options, including the possession of so-called enemy base strike capabilities, and will continue to work to drastically strengthen our defense ability," Kishi told reporters.
Meanwhile, the South Korean Foreign Ministry said Noh Kyu Duk, the country's special representative for Korean Peninsula peace and security affairs, and Takehiro Funakoshi, director general of the Japanese Foreign Ministry's Asian and Oceanian Affairs Bureau, held phone talks over the missile launch and agreed to continue close communication regarding North Korea.
Noh also had a phone conversation with Sung Kim, U.S. special representative for North Korea, and the two confirmed their close cooperation in monitoring Pyongyang's military activities.
The launch came a day after the U.N. Security Council convened a closed-door emergency meeting to discuss how to respond to last week's actions by North Korea.
In New York on Monday, the U.S. mission to the United Nations issued a joint statement with Albania, Britain, France, Ireland and Japan, condemning the North's "ballistic missile launch" on Jan. 5, which it said was "a clear violation of multiple Security Council resolutions."
"The DPRK's continued pursuit of weapons of mass destruction and ballistic missile programs is a threat to international peace and security," U.S. Ambassador Linda Thomas-Greenfield said in the statement.
DPRK stands for Democratic People's Republic of Korea, North Korea's official name.
"We call on the DPRK to refrain from further destabilizing actions, abandon its prohibited WMD and ballistic missile programs, and engage in meaningful dialogue towards our shared goal of complete denuclearization, consistent with the Security Council resolutions," it said.
While North Korean state media reported Thursday that the country successfully tested a newly developed hypersonic missile, South Korean defense officials have said North Korea has yet to acquire the technologies needed to launch a hypersonic weapon.