North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the sea just 250kms off northern Japan after threatening ‘physical action’ over a US anti-missile deal with Seoul.
Pyongyang launched two Rodong intermediate-range rockets at the same time, but one exploded on take-off.
The move sparked outrage in Tokyo and ramped up already heightened tensions with the United States and South Korea.
The launches came after North Korea threatened ‘physical action’ in response to the planned deployment of a sophisticated US anti-missile system in South Korea, and just weeks before the start of annual joint South Korea-US military exercises.
Japan said the one missile had landed 250kms off its northern coast and within the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ).
“It’s a serious threat against our country’s security,” Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters.
“This is an outrageous act that cannot be tolerated.”
The United States condemned what it called a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions explicitly prohibiting North Korea’s use of ballistic missile technology.
“This provocation only serves to increase the international community’s resolve to counter (North Korea’s) prohibited activities,” said Pentagon spokesman Gary Ross.
US Strategic Command said the two missiles were launched from a site in western North Korea at around 10.50pm GMT Tuesday night.
“Initial indications reveal one of the missiles exploded immediately after launch, while the second was tracked over North Korea and into the Sea of Japan.”
It was the first time since 1998 that a North Korean missile had landed inside Japan’s EEZ and top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said there had been no advance warning.
“From the perspective of the safety of aircraft and ships, it is an extremely problematic, dangerous act,” Suga said.
The Rodong is a scaled-up Scud variant with a maximum range of around 1,200kms.
Pyongyang has conducted a series of missile tests this year in defiance of UN sanctions imposed after its fourth nuclear test in January.
On July 19 it launched three ballistic missiles – including one Rodong – in an exercise that the North said simulated a nuclear strike on the South.
And tensions on the divided Korean peninsula are also building up ahead of a large-scale South Korea-US military exercise that begins on August 22 and involves tens of thousands of troops.
Despite the threat from North Korea, many people from the South oppose moves to deploy a US missile defense system.
North Korea says the annual drills are a provocative rehearsal for invasion, while Washington and Seoul insist they are purely defensive in nature.