Days after Kim Jong Un vowed to bolster his nuclear arsenal “at the fastest possible pace”, North Korea has reportedly launched a ballistic missile.
South Korean and Japanese officials said the launch, the North’s 14th round of weapons firing this year, came from Sunan airport in its capital region and flew to the waters off its eastern coast.
It comes six days before a new conservative South Korean president takes office for a single five-year term.
President-elect Yoon Suk-yeol has vowed to boost Seoul’s missile capability and solidify its military alliance with Washington to better cope with increasing North Korean nuclear threats.
Japan’s Defence Ministry said North Korea had fired a possible ballistic missile but did not provide further details.
The Japanese Coast Guard urged vessels off Japanese coasts to stay away from any possible fragments.
Observers say North Korea’s unusually fast pace in weapons testing this year underscores its dual goal of advancing its missile programmes and applying pressure on Washington over a deepening freeze in nuclear negotiations.
They say Mr Kim eventually aims to use his expanded arsenal to win an international recognition of North Korea as a nuclear state that he believes would help force the United States to relax international economic sanctions on the North.
One of the North Korean missiles tested recently is understood to have been an intercontinental ballistic missile potentially capable of reaching the entirety of the American homeland.
That missile’s launch broke Mr Kim’s self-imposed 2018 moratorium on big weapons tests.
Last week, the president showcased his most powerful nuclear-capable missiles during a massive military parade in Pyongyang.
During a speech at the parade, Mr Kim said he would develop his arsenal at the “fastest possible pace” and warned that the North would pre-emptively use its nuclear weapons if its national interests are threatened.