Ignoring sanctions recently passed by the United Nations, North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the sea off its east coast on Friday.
An anonymous United States official told The Associated Press that what appeared to be a medium-range Rodong missile, capable of reaching Japan from the North, was fired from a road-mobile launcher. A statement from South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said that the missile traveled around 500 miles from its launch site north of Pyongyang before crashing into the water.
The Joint Chiefs added that a second object caught on the South’s radars disappeared 10 miles into the air, and may have been a second missile.
The action by the North followed weeks of short-range missile tests in the wake of its rocket launch and apparent nuclear test earlier this year. North Korea’s Central News Agency reported earlier this week that the country’s leader Kim Jong-un had ordered tests for nuclear warheads and for warhead-carrying missiles, while the eccentric leader surveyed simulations of a warhead reentry vehicle that could return nuclear devices into the atmosphere from space.
A military expert from South Korea’s Konyang University told the AP the Friday launch could have been a test of such a device after other experts suggested the North would attempt to launch a dummy warhead to test its composition and reentry capacity.
The North’s launch was met with criticism from its Asian neighbors and the US. Japan protested the action through the North’s embassy in Beijing and South Korea's Unification Ministry suggested Kim should focus less on provocation and more on helping his people.
A spokesman for China’s foreign ministry also suggested the North avoid escalating tensions, and that it follow the UN resolutions it has repeatedly ignored. And the US Department of State called on the North to “refrain from actions that further raise tensions in the region and focus instead on taking concrete steps toward fulfilling its international commitments and obligations.”
The US and South Korea began conducting annual military exercises earlier in March, prompting the North to say it would “launch an all-out offensive to decisively counter the U.S. and its followers' hysterical nuclear war moves.” The US and the South are also in discussions to bring the Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) anti-missile system to US forces in the South despite objections from China and Russia.
The North also recently sentenced a 21-year-old US college student to 15 years in prison for attempting to steal a propaganda banner from a Pyongyang hotel.
Material from The Associated Press and Reuters was used in this report.