North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile into its eastern oceans only hours before South Korea's president was scheduled to fly to Japan for the first summit between the two countries in years, with the nuclear-armed North Korean scenario being a significant concern.
Thursday morning, the Joint Chiefs of Staff of South Korea reported that Pyongyang had launched what seemed to be a prohibited ICBM.
At approximately 7:10 a.m., the weapon was fired from Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, towards the eastern waters of the Korean Peninsula, according to a statement from the military. It said that the ICBM was fired at a sharp angle and flew around 1,000 kilometres (620 miles) before landing between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
Japan also identified the missile, prompting the coast guard to warn mariners about falling objects.
After approximately one hour in the air, Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada believes the missile fell outside Japan's exclusive economic zone. The landing spot is about 250 kilometers (155 miles) off the western island of Oshimaoshima, near where past North Korean intercontinental ballistic missiles have crashed during test flights.
The launch is North Korea's first intercontinental ballistic missile launch in a month. However, it followed a series of missile launches this week in response to ongoing large-scale military drills between South Korea and the United States, which Pyongyang considers hostile and an invasion rehearsal.
The announcement comes only hours before the first bilateral summit between South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida in 12 years.
South Korea and Japan are increasing their military budget and conducting joint military drills, which Yoon has deemed crucial to regional and global stability.
Yoon convened an emergency security meeting on the launch before departing for Tokyo, instructing the South Korean military to continue its ongoing exercises with US forces, conduct some of the planned joint drills intensively, and strengthen security cooperation between Seoul, Washington, and Tokyo, according to Yoon's office.
The president stated, "North Korea's irresponsible provocations will pay a clear price."
Kishida stated in Tokyo, "We must further strengthen the collaboration among allies and like-minded nations." He declined to speculate on the likely intentions of North Korea regarding the launch.
Pyongyang has already fired cruise missiles from a submarine and launched short-range ballistic missiles across its territory and towards an eastern sea target this week after Kim Jong Un ordered his military to be prepared to repel what he termed "frantic war preparation moves" by North Korea's adversaries.
Monday began the so-called Freedom Shield exercises between the United States and South Korea, which comprise field drills and computer simulations. They'll conclude on March 23.
In the meantime, the United States stated that it "strongly condemns" North Korea's latest ballistic missile test. The spokesman for the National Security Council at the White House, Adrienne Watson, stated that such measures needlessly exacerbate regional tensions.
North Korea launched a record number of missiles last year, citing self-defence as the reason for its weapons development.