North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile early Saturday but the launch failed just after lift-off, the U.S. military said, just hours after the top U.S. diplomat called on other nations to cut diplomatic and economic ties with Pyongyang.
U.S. Pacific Command said the launch was from near the Pukchang airfield, northeast of the capital.
The missile did not leave North Korean territory, it added.
In Tokyo, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government believes the apparent ballistic missile flew about 50 km (30 miles) to the northeast, only to fall to land inside North Korea.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who is on a trip to the United Kingdom, instructed the government to collect the latest intelligence, ensure Japan’s maritime and air safety and prepare for any possible contingency, Suga said.
The launch also prompted Tokyo to hold a National Security Council meeting, he added.
The launch “is a clear violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions, and we absolutely will not tolerate repeated provocations by North Korea,” Suga said, adding that Tokyo had already lodged a “strong” protest with Pyongyang via its embassy in Beijing.
Suga declined to clarify whether Tokyo believed the latest test-firing had ended in a failure, adding only that the government was in the process of analyzing details from a “comprehensive and technical” point of view.
He also did not say whether Tokyo had been briefed by Washington on what United States’ next steps will be to deal with the latest saber-rattling. He said only that Japan and the U.S. are in “close communication” and ready to coordinate policies.
So far, the North has conducted nine missile tests and is on target to match last year’s pace, according to a database compiled by the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies in Monterey, California.
Five of the tests were successful, according to the database.
Kent Boydston, an analyst focusing on the Korean Peninsula at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, said Saturday’s test was “part of North Korea’s continuing effort to normalize its provocations.”
“It’s worth noting that Pyongyang conducted a missile test but not a nuclear test, which would elicit a stronger response from the international community,” Boydston said.
While much attention has remained fixed on the North’s nuclear tests, its missile programme likely poses the most immediate danger to the region.
Boydston said that despite the missile test’s apparent failure, Pyongyang would likely glean much from the launch.
“A failed missile test is still a banned missile test,” he said. “North Korea will learn and improve. Maybe the fact that it failed shouldn’t even be in the headline.”