North Korea Fires Projectile into East Sea; Seoul and Japan Suspect It's a Ballistic Missile

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North Korea fired at least one projectile into waters of the east coast of the Korean peninsula on Wednesday, South Korea's military said. According to initial reports and the Japanese government the projectile is possibly a "ballistic missile," it said in a tweet.

Besides the Japanese Coast Guard, the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) also believe that the North fired what is suspected to be a single ballistic missile. The launch of the possible ballistic missiles comes 78 days after the North last conducted a missile test and once again is likely to escalate tensions in the region.

North Korea Does It Again

North Korea ballistic missile lands near Japan waters, alarms Tokyo
Ballistic rocket is seen launching during a drill by the Hwasong artillery units of the KPA Strategic Force in this undated picture provided by KCNA in Pyongyang. Reuters

The Japan Coast Guard reported that the possible ballistic missile fell into the Sea of Japan, outside of Japanese territorial waters by 8:23 am local time. It has called on all vessels transiting to look out for updates.

Japan's government said that it is confirming the safety of aircraft and ships in the area. Japan's defense minister, Nobuo Kishi, told reporters that the projectile flew about 310 miles (500 kilometers).

North Korea is forbidden by international sanctions from testing ballistic missiles. However, it has never abided by that and has time and again carried out tests.

"Since last year, North Korea has repeatedly launched missiles, which is very regrettable," Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters on Wednesday.

"Our military is maintaining readiness posture in preparation for a possible additional launch while closely monitoring the situation in close cooperation with the United States," the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

Wednesday's test has once again raised concern in the region particularly in South Korea and Japan. South Korea's National Security Council held an emergency meeting following the test and said that the launch "came at a time when internal and external stability is extremely important." It also requested North Korea to return to talks.

Tensions Escalate

Ballistic missile
North Korea has ballistic missiles capable of targeting U.S. Wikimedia Commons

Japan's foreign and defense ministry too will be holding a meeting following Wednesday's ballistic missile test by the North. Wednesday's test is the first projectile launch since North Korea said it successfully test-fired a new submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) in October last year.

Moreover, it comes just days after North Korea's leader Kim Jong Un vowed to continue boosting military capability during a ruling party conference last week.

The last test took place on October 19. The submarine missile test came after weeks of seesawing tensions on the Korean Peninsula, which saw growing cooperation between Pyongyang and Seoul at the same time as rising military brinksmanship.

Last year, North Korea also sped up its weapons testing program, including the launch in late September of what it claimed was a new hypersonic missile.

The United Nations Security Council first imposed sanctions on North Korea in 2006 after the country's first nuclear test. Since then, tougher sanctions have been imposed following frequent tests carried out by North Korea. Dialogues between North Korea and the United States on reliving sanctions in exchange for denuclearization remains stalled.