North Korea fired a ballistic missile into the sea on Sunday, in what could be the Pyongyang regime’s first launch in about a month, Seoul and Tokyo said.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the North “fired an unidentified ballistic missile toward the East Sea,” referring to an area also known as the Sea of Japan.
Japan’s Defense Ministry said it had detected a possible launch of a short-range ballistic missile, which fell outside the country’s special economic zone.
If confirmed, it will be Pyongyang’s first missile launch since it tested the Hwasong-18 solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile, the North’s most advanced weapon, on December 18.
The Hwasong-18 was designed to attack the continental United States.
Last week, Pyongyang held artillery drills around its western maritime border with the South for three days, prompting Seoul to hold similar firing drills in the same area.
In recent days, North Korea has intensified its warlike rhetoric. Earlier this week, leader Kim Jong Un described the South as the “main enemy” and threatened to annihilate the neighboring country if provoked.
Experts say Kim is likely to further escalate tensions by testing new missiles to try to influence the results of South Korea’s parliamentary elections in April and the US presidential elections in November.
At a key North Korean single party meeting in late December, Kim promised to expand Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal and launch additional spy satellites to counter what he called U.S.-led confrontational moves.