North Korea fires ballistic missile into Sea of Japan while Trump, Xi prepare to meet

apan has highly condemned the missile launch and said that it violated UN Security Council resolutions.

North Korea tests ballistic missile;
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspects the construction site of Ryomyong Street, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency. Reuters

South Korea's defence ministry said that nuclear-armed North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan on Wednesday. This comes days after Pyongyang had warned of retaliation if the global community ramps up sanctions.

"At 06.42am (5.42am Singapore time) today, North Korea fired a ballistic missile from Sinpo area into the Sea of Japan," the ministry said in a statement. It added that the missile had flown around 60 kilometres.

"The military is keeping a close watch over North Korea's provocative moves and maintaining a high defence posture", the statement added.

In response to the firing, the US military said that it was a KN-15 medium-range ballistic missile, which they had determined posed no threat to America. The military command in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region said: "US Pacific Command is fully committed to working closely with our Republic of Korea and Japanese allies to maintain security."

Rex Tillerson, the US Secretary of State, has confirmed that Pyongyang had launched "yet another" intermediate range ballistic missile. "The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment," he told Reuters.

Meanwhile, Japan has highly condemned the missile launch and said that it violated UN Security Council resolutions. "Japan never tolerates North Korea's repeated provocative actions. The government strictly protested and strongly condemned it," Yoshihide Suga, Chief Cabinet Secretary said.

According to reports, the latest missile launch might fuel international concerns about the hermit state's weapons programme.

North Korea is on a quest to develop a long-range missile that will be capable of hitting the US mainland with a nuclear warhead. Till now it has staged five nuclear tests, two of which were tested last year.

The missile launch on Wednesday came after President Donald Trump threatened by saying that the US was prepared to go it alone in bringing the North to heel if China did not step in, and ahead of a meeting between Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

On Monday, North Korea's foreign ministry criticized Washington for its tough talk and for an ongoing joint military exercise with South Korea and Japan which Pyongyang sees as a dress rehearsal for invasion.

The official KCNA news agency quoted a ministry spokesman as saying that the "reckless actions" are driving the tense situation on the Korean peninsula "to the brink of a war".

It said: "The idea that the US could deprive Pyongyang of its nuclear deterrent through sanctions is the wildest dream."

Trump and Xi are scheduled to hold their first face-to-face meeting this week at the US president's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. It is expected that the two leaders will discuss about the growing tensions on the Korean peninsula are expected to be high on the agenda.

The hardened US stance followed recent North Korean missile launches that Pyongyang described as practice for an attack on US bases in Japan. In February, North Korea fired four ballistic missiles simultaneously off its east coast. However, three of those missiles fell provocatively close to Japan.

Last year in August, Pyongyang successfully test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile 500 kilometres towards Japan. The missile exceeded the range of any previous sub-launched tests, in what the North's leader Kim Jong-Un hailed as the "greatest success".

A nuclear-capable SLBM system would take the North's threat to a new level, allowing deployment far beyond the Korean peninsula and a "second-strike" capability in the event of an attack on its army bases.

The analysts say that although Pyongyang has made faster progress in its SLBM system but it is still years away from deployment. North Korea is barred under UN resolutions from carrying out ballistic missile launches or nuclear tests.