North Korea fired a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile on Friday, Seoul’s military said, the second launch in two days as Pyongyang continues a record blitz that has sent fears of a nuclear test soaring.
A South Korean defense official told AFP that they “estimated that North Korea had launched an ICBM”, without giving further details.
Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff earlier said they had detected “the launch of an unidentified ballistic missile in an eastward direction”.
Tokyo also confirmed the launch, and Japan’s defense minister said Pyongyang had fired “a suspected ballistic missile,” as the coast guard warned ships not to approach fallen debris in the water.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called the launch “absolutely unacceptable” and said there had been no reports of damage to ships or aircraft.
“The ballistic missile fired by North Korea is believed to have landed in our EEZ (Exclusive Economic Zone) west of Hokkaido,” Kishida told reporters in Bangkok, where he is attending a regional summit.
The EEZ extends up to 200 nautical miles from the coast of Japan, beyond the limits of its territorial waters. Japan’s defense ministry had previously said the missile was “ICBM-class”.
The launch comes a day after North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile that its Foreign Minister Choe Son Hui warned Pyongyang would take “harder” military action if the United States strengthened its “extended deterrence” commitment to regional allies.
Washington has sought to strengthen regional security cooperation and increase joint military exercises in response to increasing provocations from the nuclear-armed North, which sees any such moves as evidence of US aggression.
US President Joe Biden discussed North Korea’s latest missile tests with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping earlier this week and also spoke to leaders from Tokyo and Seoul, as fears grow that the reclusive regime will soon conduct its seventh nuclear test.
North Korea was also high on the agenda as the leaders of China and Japan held their first face-to-face talks in three years on Thursday on the sidelines of the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Bangkok.
Experts said the launch of one of North Korea’s most powerful weapons was a clear sign that leader Kim Jong Un was unhappy with recent talks.
“Now it is estimated to be an ICBM, if so, it is a clear message to the US and Japan,” said Han Kwon-hee, head of the Missile Strategy Forum.
Earlier this month, North Korea conducted a flurry of launches, including an intercontinental ballistic missile, which Seoul said at the time appeared to have failed.
Pyongyang also fired a short-range ballistic missile that crossed the de facto maritime border between the two countries and landed near the South’s territorial waters for the first time since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
President Yoon said at the time that it was “effectively a territorial invasion”.
Both launches were part of a Nov. 2 barrage in which Pyongyang fired 23 missiles — more than it fired in all of 2017, the year of “fire and fury” when Kim traded barbs with then-US President Donald Trump on Twitter and in state media .
Experts say North Korea is seizing the opportunity to carry out banned missile tests, confident it will avoid further UN sanctions due to the Ukraine-linked standoff at the UN.
China, Pyongyang’s main diplomatic and economic ally, joined Russia in May in vetoing a US-led UN Security Council bid to tighten sanctions on North Korea.
Washington has responded to North Korea’s sanctions-busting missile tests by expanding exercises with South Korea and deploying a strategic bomber.
Pyongyang has also been under a self-imposed coronavirus lockdown since early 2020, which experts say would limit the impact of any further external sanctions.