North Korea fired a suspected ballistic missile into the sea on Wednesday, the South Korean and Japanese militaries said, its first public weapons launch in about two months and a signal that Pyongyang isn't interested in rejoining denuclearization talks anytime soon and would rather focus on boosting its weapons arsenal.
The latest launch came after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un vowed to further bolster his military capability - without disclosing any new policies toward the United States or South Korea- at a high-profile ruling party conference last week.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that North Korea fired a suspected ballistic missile toward its eastern waters on Wednesday morning. It said South Korean and U.S. intelligence authorities were trying to analyze more information about the launch.
In an emergency video conference, members of South Korea's presidential national security team expressed concerns about the launch and said resuming talks with North Korea is important to resolve tensions, according to the presidential Blue House.
The Japanese Defense Ministry also detected the North Korean launch, saying the country likely fired a missile.
"We find it truly regrettable that North Korea has continued to fire missiles from last year," Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters.
Kishida said other details about the North Korean launch weren't immediately available, including where the suspected missile landed and whether there had been any damage. He said he ordered officials to confirm the safety of ships and planes in the area where the suspected missile likely flew and fell.
Between September and November, North Korea performed a spate of weapons tests in what experts called an attempt to apply more pressure on its rivals to accept it as a nuclear power state in the hopes of winning relief from economic sanctions. The weapons tested included a submarine-launched ballistic missile and a developmental hypersonic missile. Since its artillery firing drills in early November, North Korea had halted testing activities until Wednesday's launch.
U.S.-led diplomacy aimed at convincing North Korea to abandon its nuclear program collapsed in 2019 due to wrangling over how much sanctions relief should be given to the North in return for dismantling its main nuclear complex, a limited denuclearization step. Kim has since threatened to enlarge his nuclear arsenal, though his country's economy has suffered major setbacks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, persistent U.S.-led sanctions and his own mismanagement.
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