The South Korean military says North Korea test fired at least one anti-ship missile Monday that landed in the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. News of the test-firing comes just before the South's new president takes office.
South Korean Defense Ministry officials, quoted by the Associated Press news agency, say the missile -- or possibly two, according to Japanese sources -- was fired from North Korea's east coast and landed in waters in the Sea of Japan. The South Korean government is investigating what kind of a missile was involved and whether the firing was part of the North Korean army's winter training exercises. Japan's NHK television says the weapon was made in China, and is called a "Silk Worm."
The test took place on the eve of the inauguration of South Korea's new president, Roh Moo-hyun, who has pledged to maintain a dialogue with the North, despite mounting global concerns over its nuclear weapons program.
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoriko Kawaguchi said early Tuesday Tokyo is gathering information on the missile launch right now and has no further comment.
Toshiyuki Shikata, a Japanese defense and security expert interviewed by Japan's Fuji Television network, says he does not think the North was targeting Japan. He interprets the move as a political signal to capture world attention, and warns more missile tests could follow.
In 1998, North Korea shocked the world by test-firing a long-range ballistic missile over Japan which it said was for launching satellites but could also be adapted for military use.
Global concerns over North Korea have been mounting since October, when the United States said Pyongyang admitted it had a nuclear weapons program, in violation of international non-proliferation agreements. Since then the North has withdrawn from a global nuclear arms control treaty and has threatened to abandon the 1953 armistice that ended the Korean War. It had also warned it might resume missile tests.
Last week a North Korean MiG-19 fighter jet entered into the neutral airspace between North and South Korea. It was the first time a North Korean plane crossed into the area in two decades.