North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Sunday in an apparent test of the South’s new president who backs engagement with Pyongyang.
The missile flew about 700 kilometres (435 miles) before landing in the Sea of Japan, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said. The US Pacific Command said it did not appear to be an intercontinental ballistic missile.
New South Korean President Moon Jae-In, who was inaugurated on Wednesday, slammed the test as a “reckless provocation” after holding an emergency meeting with national security advisors.
He said the government strongly condemned this “grave challenge to the peace and security of the Korean peninsula and the international community,” his spokesman Yoon Young-Chan said.
Moon, unlike his conservative predecessors, advocates reconciliation with Pyongyang but warned Sunday that dialogue would be possible “only if the North changes its behaviour”.
Moon had said in his inauguration speech that he was willing to visit Pyongyang “in the right circumstances” to defuse tensions on the Korean peninsula, with Pyongyang and Washington exchanging hostile rhetoric.
US President Donald Trump has threatened military action against the North but recently appears to have softened his stance, saying he would be “honoured” to meet the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un under the right conditions.
A senior Pyongyang diplomat said Saturday the North would be willing to hold talks with the US if the conditions are right.
Washington has been looking to China for help in reining in Kim and the missile test is likely to embarrass Beijing, which is hosting a summit Sunday to promote its ambitious global trade infrastructure project.
It was also North Korea’s first launch since a controversial US missile defence system deployed in South Korea became operational on May 2 and follows a failed April 29 ballistic missile test.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe slammed the latest missile launch as “totally unacceptable” and a “grave threat” to Tokyo.
“We strongly protest against North Korea,” he said.
The missile was launched from a site near the northwestern city of Kusong, according to the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff.
North Korea test-fired a missile from the same city in February with the missile flying more than 500 kilometres.
The North has staged two atomic tests and dozens of missile launches since the start of last year in its quest to develop a missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the US mainland.
Most experts have doubted that the North has developed an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) with that range.
But many say the isolated nation has made a great progress in its nuclear and missile capabilities since Kim took power after the death of his father and longtime ruler, Kim Jong-Il, in 2011.