North Korea fired what could be a ballistic missile early Sunday, Japan’s military said, as Pyongyang returns to weapons tests following a pause during the Beijing Olympics.
In a statement, Japan’s Coast Guard warned vessels in the area to be on the lookout for falling objects, noting the country’s Ministry of Defense had reported a possible ballistic missile launch.
In an alert to reporters, South Korea’s military said a single projectile was launched at 7:52 a.m. from the Sunan area into waters off the peninsula's east coast. It echoed the view that the projectile could be a ballistic missile.
The projectile flew at a range of 300 kilometers, reaching a maximum altitude of 600 kilometers, Japan's Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said.
Sunan Airport in Pyongyang is where North Korea had launched a pair of short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs) on Jan. 17. It tested 11 missiles in seven rounds of testing in January, a record for the nuclear-armed country.
South Korea's National Security Council at the presidential office convened a meeting in response to the latest provocation.
Analysts had expected North Korea to pause the tests while its neighbor and ally, China, held the Winter Olympics. The Winter Games ended a week ago.
Many analysts have said North Korea may now resume larger tests while the world’s attention is focused on the Russian invasion of Ukraine.
"North Korea is not going to do anyone the favor of staying quiet while the world deals with Russia’s aggression against Ukraine. Pyongyang has an ambitious schedule of military modernization. The Kim regime’s strength and legitimacy have become tied to testing ever better missiles," said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
"The Biden administration needs to show that it maintains strategic focus on the Indo-Pacific, including by responding sternly to Pyongyang’s provocations."
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un indicated he may lift a self-imposed moratorium on long-range and nuclear missiles, most recently during a politburo meeting last month.
North Korea’s last test, conducted Jan. 30, involved a Hwasong-12 intermediate range missile — Pyongyang’s longest-range missile test in more than four years.