SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile that landed in Japan's maritime economic zone Monday, officials said, the latest in a string of test launches as the North seeks to build nuclear-tipped ICBMs that can reach the U.S. mainland.
This launch of a suspected Scud-type missile, which the South Korean military said flew about 450 kilometers (280 miles), may also be an attempt to demonstrate North Korea's ability to strike U.S. and South Korean troops in the region.
The missile launched from the coastal town of Wonsan, the South's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. It landed in Japan's exclusive maritime economic zone, which is set about 200 nautical miles off the Japanese coast, Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said. He said there was no report of damage to planes or vessels in the area.
Because Monday's test — the North's ninth ballistic missile launch this year — was apparently of a short-range variety of which Pyongyang has a surplus of reliable missiles, it may have been meant more as a political and military message to outsiders than as a crucial test of not-yet-perfected technology.
The content of that message is open to interpretation, but some see a resolve to ignore U.S.-led pressure, which has included vague threats from President Donald Trump and the arrival in Korean waters of powerful U.S. military hardware, while also showing that the North can hit U.S. targets near and far. Scuds are capable of striking at American troops in South Korea, for instance, and two newly developed missiles tested earlier this month have potential ranges that include Japan, Guam and even, according to some South Korean analysts, Alaska.
North Korea is still thought to be several years from its goal of being able to target U.S. mainland cities with a nuclear intercontinental ballistic missile. It has a strong arsenal of short- and medium-range missiles and is working to perfect its longer-range missiles.
North Korea's state-controlled media had no immediate comment. But a day earlier, the North said leader Kim Jong Un had watched a separate, successful test of a new type of anti-aircraft guided weapon system. It wasn't clear from the state media report when the test happened.
The official Korean Central News Agency cited Kim as ordering officials to mass-produce and deploy the system all over the country so as to "completely spoil the enemy's wild dream to command the air."
The North's nuclear and missile programs are perhaps the biggest foreign policy challenges to the new leaders in Washington and Seoul.
Trump has alternated between bellicosity and flattery in his public statements about North Korea, but his administration is still working to solidify a policy to handle its nuclear ambitions.
Monday's launch was the third ballistic missile launch by North Korea since South Korean President Moon Jae-in was inaugurated on May 10. He has signaled an interest in expanding civilian exchange with North Korea, but many analysts say he won't likely push for any major rapprochement because North Korea has gone too far in developing its nuclear program.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that "North Korea's provocation by ignoring repeated warnings from the international society is absolutely unacceptable."
Suga, the Japanese cabinet secretary, said the missile fell about 300 kilometers (190 miles) north of the Oki islands in southwestern Japan and 500 kilometers (310 miles) west of Sado island in central Japan.
Suga said Japanese officials will discuss North Korea with a senior foreign policy adviser to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Yang Jiechi, who is scheduled to visit Japan later Monday. He said China, the North's only major ally, has been increasingly using its influence over North Korea.
Besides its regular ballistic missile test-launches, the North carried out two of its five nuclear tests last year — in January and September. Outside analysts believe North Korea may be able to arm some of its shorter-range missiles with nuclear warheads, though the exact state of the North's secretive weapons program is unknown.
AP journalists Mari Yamaguchi and Kaori Hitomi contributed to this report from Tokyo.