According to South Korea’s defense minister, North Korea has launched a ballistic missile into the sea.
The launch was first reported by the Japanese coast guard early Wednesday morning, and it was later confirmed by defense officials in Seoul.
North Korea is prohibited by the United Nations from conducting ballistic and nuclear weapons tests.
This is Pyongyang’s first missile launch since leader Kim Jong-un pledged last month to improve the country’s defense capabilities.
“South Korean and US intelligence are closely examining for additional detail,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) of South Korea said in a statement.
According to Nobuo Kishi, Japan’s defense minister, the ballistic missile flew about 500 kilometers (310 miles).
However, one expert stated that there was no way to confirm the missile’s full striking range.
“There’s no way of knowing whether this was a longer-range missile flown on a shorter trajectory,” said Ankit Panda of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace’s Nuclear Policy Programme, according to BBC News.
In 2017, North Korea tested the Hwasong-15 missile, which reached an estimated altitude of 4,500 kilometers, putting US military bases on the Pacific island of Guam within striking distance.
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The launch comes just days after Mr. Kim stated that Pyongyang would continue to strengthen its defense capabilities in response to the Korean peninsula’s increasingly volatile military environment, a stance that Mr. Panda warned could result in 2022 being “littered with similar North Korean missiles.”
Mr. Kim made the remarks during a critical end-of-year meeting of North Korea’s ruling party.
Fumio Kishida, Japan’s Prime Minister, called the latest launch “very regrettable,” citing North Korea’s repeated missile tests since 2021.
According to state media, North Korea continued to advance its weapons program in 2021, testing a new hypersonic missile, a train-based ballistic missile, and a new long-range cruise missile.
Ballistic missiles are considered more dangerous than cruise missiles because they can carry more powerful payloads, have a longer range, and can fly faster.
The tests come as Pyongyang struggles with food shortages as a result of a coronavirus blockade that has severely harmed the country’s economy.
At the end-of-year meeting, Mr. Kim stated that the country was in a “great life-and-death struggle,” adding that increasing development and improving people’s living standards were among this year’s goals.
The United Nations had previously warned that vulnerable children and the elderly in North Korea faced starvation.
Mr. Panda, on the other hand, believes that it is unlikely that North Korea will abandon its nuclear program.
“In recent years, [Mr] Kim has maintained his emphasis on national defense self-reliance even as he has been open about the country’s economic difficulties,” Mr. Panda said.
“For both internal and external reasons, [Mr] Kim and the Workers’ Party see maintaining these weapons programs as a top national priority.”
The United States has repeatedly urged North Korea to give up its nuclear weapons, and Pyongyang’s relationship with President Joe Biden’s administration has thus far been strained.
North Korea has also accused South Korea of applying double standards in military matters.
South Korea recently conducted its first submarine-launched ballistic missile test, claiming that it was necessary to deter North Korean “provocations.”