North Korea on Sunday fired a ballistic missile into the East Sea in show of force against the Donald Trump government's hard-line stance toward the communist state, the South Korean military said.
It is the first test-firing of a North Korean missile since Trump became U.S. president on Jan. 20., and the country's first major provocation in 2017.
"The missile launch is a clear violation of the United Nations Security Council resolutions. It is aimed at drawing attention from the international community, and showing off its nuclear and missile capabilities in protest against the new U.S. government," Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said in a text message.
The JCS, however, said the latest missile did not appear to be an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the U.S. mainland.
The projectile, presumed to be an intermediate-range Musudan ballistic missile or a mid-range Rodong missile, flew about 500 kilometers before splashing into its eastern sea after being launched around 7:55 a.m. from Banghyon air base in the western province of North Pyongan Province, the JCS said. The relative short range has local experts speculating the projectile could be a Musudan or a similar rocket designed to test engines for an ICBM.
"Seoul and Washington are conducting a joint analysis on additional information to determine if the missile is a modified Musudan missile or the shorter range Rodong missile," it said. The missile's flight distance of 500 km is shorter than the Musudan's estimated range of around 3,000 km.
The Banghyon air base is the same place where North Korea test-fired Musudan missiles on Oct. 15 and 20. Last year, the North tested a total of eight Musudan missiles believed to be capable of reaching the U.S. territory of Guam.
In the one "successful" Musudan launch to date, the missile flew some 400 km, well short of its maximum range, but the flight distance was because the North fired the missile at a high angle in order to avoid breaching Japan's airspace.
Back then, the Pentagon confirmed after the launch that the missile reached an altitude exceeding 1,000 kilometers.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said in his annual New Year's address that the country's preparations for launching an ICBM have "reached the final stage." The remark was seen as an apparent threat that Pyongyang was close to acquiring the know-how to strike the continental United States.
In response to the ICBM threat, Trump pledged last month to stop the North from mastering such ICBM capabilities, saying that the North's development of a nuclear missile capable of striking the U.S. "won't happen," though he didn't say how he would prevent it.
There were earlier reports that the North had placed two unidentified missiles on mobile launchers for apparent test-firing.
Meanwhile, the Japanese government confirmed the North's missile test and South Korea's presidential office called a national security meeting.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga reportedly said the missile launched by Pyongyang didn't hit Japanese waters.
South Korea's Acting President and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn said at a meeting convened in Seoul that the country will make a "corresponding" response to punish Pyongyang for its latest missile launch in tandem with the international community. (Yonhap)