North Korea has fired at least one missile off its east coast on Wednesday, possibly from a submarine, the South Korean military said, a day after announcing it would resume stalled talks over its nuclear programme with the United States.
The National Security Council in Seoul expressed “strong concern” over the launch of what it said may have been a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM), according to a statement issued by the presidential Blue House.
If confirmed, it would be the first time North Korea has launched an undersea missile in three years.
South Korea’s military said it picked up a missile that flew 450 kilometres (280 miles) and reached an altitude of 910 kilometres (565 miles), and that it was believed to be a “Pukguksong-class” type missile that North Korea launched previously from an underwater test platform in 2016.
Japan lodged an immediate protest, saying the missile landed inside Japan’s economic exclusive zone – the first time a North Korean missile has landed that close to Japan since November 2017. The EEZ covers waters as far as 370 kilometres (230 miles) from the coast.
Defence Minister Taro Kono called the launch “a serious threat to Japanese national security” adding that it was an “extremely problematic and dangerous act” for the safety of vessels and aircraft. Kono declined to say whether the projectile was a submarine-launched missile.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the launch violated UN resolutions that ban North Korea from conducting any launch using ballistic technology.
“We will continue to cooperate with the US and the international community and do the utmost to maintain and protect the safety of the people as we stay on alert,” Abe said.
South Korea’s military said the missile was launched towards the sea from around Wonsan, the site of one of North Korea’s military bases on the east coast.
North Korea had been developing SLBM technology before it suspended long-range missile and nuclear tests and began talks with the United States that led eventually to the first summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore in June 2018.
The launch is the ninth since US President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un met at the heavily-guarded Demilitarised Zone between the two Koreas in June, with talks over the North’s nuclear and missile programmes stalled ince the second summit between the two men collapsed in February.
It came just a day after Pyongyang announced it had agreed with the US to hold working-level talks on Saturday potentially breaking months of stalemate.