North Korea on Monday fired four ballistic missiles into the sea off northwest of Japan, which appeared to be a promised retaliation over last Wednesday’s U.S.-South Korea military drills.
North Korea saw the military drills as a preparation for war while the U.S and South Korea said it was a test of their defensive readiness against possible aggression from the North Korea.
The launching of the missiles angered South Korea and Japan. South Korea’s military said the missiles were unlikely to have been intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBM), which can reach the United States.
The missiles flew on average 1,000 km (620 miles) and reached a height of 260 km (160 miles).
Some of the missiles landed in waters as close as 300 km (190 miles) from Japan’s northwest coast, Japan’s Defence Minister Tomomi Inada said in Tokyo.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said “strong protests” had been lodged with nuclear-armed North Korea, which has carried out a series of nuclear and missile tests in defiance of U.N. resolutions.
“The launches are clearly in violation of Security Council resolutions. It is an extremely dangerous action,” Abe told parliament.
South Korea’s acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn condemned the launches as a direct challenge to the international community and said Seoul would swiftly deploy a U.S. anti-missile defense system despite angry objections from China.
The missiles were launched from the Tongchang-ri region near the reclusive North’s border with China, South Korean military spokesman Roh Jae-cheon told a briefing. It was too early to say what the relatively low altitude indicated about the types of missiles, he said.
Joshua Pollack, editor of the U.S.-based Non-Proliferation Review, said it did not appear the North had launched an ICBM.
“It sounds like a field exercise involving deployed missiles, probably ones we’ve seen before,” Pollack said.
U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, also told Reuters there were no indications so far that North Korea had tested an ICBM.
The U.S. military said it detected and tracked what it assessed was a North Korean missile launch, but it did not pose a threat to North America.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a daily news briefing that China, which is holding its annual meeting of the National People’s Congress, had noted North Korea’s latest action.
“All sides should exercise restraint and not do anything to irritate each other to worsen regional tensions,” Geng said, referring to both the missile launch and U.S.-South Korean military exercises.