North Korean leader Kim Jong-un suffered a double whammy as a medium-range rocket launch failed and ally China castigated the reclusive regime for its military misadventures.
However, the setback will only spur the dictator to adopt a tougher posturing in a bid to shore up power and Pyongyang was more likely than not to carry out a fifth nuclear test, observers have said.
South Korean officials and international experts said the chances of North Korea conducting another nuclear test were high after the failed missile launch on Friday.
"North Korea is capable of conducting an additional nuclear test at any time if there is a decision by Kim Jong Un," a senior South Korean official said, according to Reuters.
"Such a nuclear test and the missile launch believed to be a failure this morning are both among the provocations that North Korea would have reasonably tried," the official added, speaking anonymously.
The failed test of an intermediate-range ballistic missile on a day the country celebrated the birthday of founder Kim Il Sung embarrassed the regime.
United States called the test of the road-mobile missile a "fiery, catastrophic" failure.
China criticized its ally saying Pyongyang's move made the situation in the peninsula more complex.
"At present, the situation on the peninsula is complex and sensitive," Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Lu Kang said.
"We hope all parties can strictly respect the decisions of the Security Council and avoid taking any steps that could further worsen tensions," Lu added.
Chinese state news agency Xinhua was more critical. "Nuclear weapons will not make Pyongyang safer. On the contrary, its costly military endeavors will keep on suffocating its economy," it said in a commentary.
"The firing of a mid-range ballistic missile on Friday by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea [DPRK], though failed, marks the latest in a string of saber-rattling that, if unchecked, will lead the country to nowhere," Xinhua added.
Meanwhile, US website 38 North said satellite imagery showed North Korea was possibly producing more plutonium for further nuclear tests and weapons production.
The website, which monitors North Korean nuclear weapons programme, said satellite images from the Nyongbyon nuclear complex showed brisk activity at a radiochemical laboratory complex where weapons-grade plutonium is made.