North Korea has fired a possible ballistic missile, Japan’s Coast Guard said on Friday, which would be the country’s third such launch in two weeks.
South Korea’s military said an unidentified projectile had been launched into the sea off its east coast.
Kim Jong-un’s regime had earlier berated the US for imposing fresh sanctions over its latest missile tests and warned of stronger and more explicit action if Washington maintains its “confrontational stance”.
In a statement carried by North Korea’s official Korean Central News Agency, an unidentified foreign ministry spokesperson defended the North’s recent launches of purported hypersonic missiles as a righteous exercise of self-defence.
The spokesperson said the new sanctions underscored hostile US intent aimed at “isolating and stifling” the North despite Washington’s repeated calls for Pyongyang to resume diplomacy that has stalled over disagreements about sanctions relief and nuclear disarmament steps.
The Biden administration on Wednesday imposed sanctions on five North Koreans over their roles in obtaining equipment and technology for the North’s missile programs in its response to the latest missile test this week and also said it would seek new UN sanctions.
The Treasury Department’s announcement came just hours after North Korea said Kim oversaw a successful test of a hypersonic missile on Tuesday that he claimed would greatly increase the country’s nuclear “war deterrent”.
The North Korean spokesperson accused the US of maintaining a “gangster-like” stance, saying the development of the new missile was part of its efforts to modernise its military and did not target any specific country or threaten the security of its neighbours.
“Nevertheless, the US is intentionally escalating the situation even with the activation of independent sanctions, not content with referring the DPRK’s just activity to the UN Security Council,” the spokesperson said, using an abbreviation of North Korea’s formal name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
Tuesday’s test was North Korea’s second demonstration of its purported hypersonic missile in a week. The country in recent months has been ramping up tests of new, potentially nuclear-capable missiles designed to overwhelm missile defence systems in the region, as it continues to expand its military capabilities amid a freeze in diplomacy with the US.
Hypersonic weapons, which fly at speeds in excess of mach 5, or five times the speed of sound, could pose a crucial challenge to missile defence systems because of their speed and maneuverability.
Such weapons were on a wish-list of sophisticated military assets Kim unveiled early last year along with multi-warhead missiles, spy satellites, solid-fuel long-range missiles and submarine-launched nuclear missiles.
Still, experts say North Korea would need years and more successful and longer-range tests before acquiring a credible hypersonic system.
This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.