North Korea fires Scud-class ballistic missile into Japanese waters; third test in three weeks

South Korea and Japan have immediately issued strong protests against this latest missile test by the North.

North Korea fires missile
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un watches the test of a new-type anti-aircraft guided weapon system organised by the Academy of National Defence Science in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency (KCNA) May 28, 2017. Reuters

North Korea on Monday fired off a short-range ballistic missile that Japan said landed in the sea off its east coast within 200 miles of its coastline. This latest comes as the third ballistic missile test in just over three weeks in a series of missile tests defying world pressure and threats of more sanctions.

South Korean officials said that the missile believed to be a Scud-class ballistic missile and flew about 450 km (280 miles). North Korea has a large stockpile of the short-range missiles, originally developed by the Soviet Union.

Monday's missile launch follows two successful tests of medium to long range missiles in as many weeks by Pyongyang, which has been conducting such tests at an unprecedented pace in an effort to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the mainland United States.

Ever since South Korea's liberal President Moon Jae-in took office on May 10, this is the third test-launch by the North. Moon says sanctions alone have failed to resolve the growing threat from the North's advancing nuclear and missile programme.

South Korea and Japan have immediately issued strong protests, with Japan's Prime Minister promising "concrete action" in response and the South Korean defense chiefs saying the North would face "strong punishment from our military."

According to a statement from South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff, the missile was fired at 5:39 a.m. local time (4:39 p.m. Sunday ET) from an area near Wonsan, Kangwon province, toward the eastern part of the Korean Peninsula.

Japan also said that the missile landed within its Exclusive Economic Zone, an area of water extended 200 nautical miles from the Japanese coast. "This launch is extremely problematic act for the safety of airplanes and ships and is clearly violating the UN resolution. The repeated provocative acts by North Korea is absolutely not acceptable," Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said in a statement.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said a "firm protest" was lodged with North Korea. "In order to deter North Korea, we will take concrete action together with the United States," he told CNN. "We will maintain high vigilance in coordination with South Korea and the international community and take all possible measures to secure the safety of the people of Japan."

On Monday, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff warned North Korea against further provocations. "North Korea's continuous provocative actions will cause its own isolation and it will be facing strong punishment from our military, South Korea and US alliance and the international community," a statement from the Joint Chiefs said.

South Korea's Moon swiftly called a meeting of the National Security Council, South Korea's Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff added.

From the beginning of 2016, North Korea has conducted dozens of missile tests and tested two nuclear bombs in defiance of U.N. Security Council resolutions. It says the programme is necessary to counter U.S. aggression.

The White House said President Donald Trump had been briefed on the launch. The US Pacific Command said it tracked what appeared to be a short-range ballistic missile for six minutes and assessed it did not pose a threat to North America.

Earlier, the United States said it was looking at discussing with China a new U.N. Security Council resolution. Beijing, the main diplomatic ally of Pyongyang, realises that time was limited to rein in the North's weapons programme through negotiations.

When Jim Mattis, the US Defense Secretary, was asked about what a military conflict with North Korea might look like if diplomacy failed, he warned that it would be "probably the worst kind of fighting in most people's lifetimes."

"The North Korean regime has hundreds of artillery cannons and rocket launchers within range of one of the most densely populated cities on Earth, which is the capital of South Korea," Mattis told CBS news programme "Face the Nation". "And in the event of war, they would bring danger to China and to Russia as well."