North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan and into the Pacific on Friday, responding to new UN sanctions with what appeared to be its furthest-ever missile flight amid high tensions over its weapons programmes.
The launch, from near Pyongyang, came after the United Nations Security Council imposed an eighth set of measures on the isolated country following its sixth nuclear test earlier this month.
It was by far its largest to date and Pyongyang said it was a hydrogen bomb small enough to fit onto a missile.
In New York, the Security Council called an emergency meeting for later on Friday.
The US Pacific Command confirmed Friday’s rocket was an intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) and said it did not pose a threat to North America or to the US Pacific territory of Guam, which Pyongyang has threatened to bracket with “enveloping fire”.
Seoul’s defence ministry said it probably travelled around 3,700 kilometres and reached a maximum altitude of 770 kilometres.
It was “the furthest overground any of their ballistic missiles has ever travelled”, Joseph Dempsey of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said on Twitter.
Physicist David Wright, of the Union of Concerned Scientists, added: “North Korea demonstrated that it could reach Guam with this missile, although the payload the missile was carrying is not known” and its accuracy was in doubt.
The North has raised global tensions with its rapid progress in weapons technology under leader Kim Jong-Un, who is closely associated with the programme and regularly pictured by state media overseeing launches and visiting facilities.
The North’s last missile launch, a Hwasong-12 IRBM just over two weeks ago, also overflew Japan’s main islands and was the first to do so for years.
But when Pyongyang tested two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July that appeared to bring much of the US mainland into range, it fired them on lofted trajectories that avoided passing over the archipelago nation.
“The North is sending a message which is, ‘we are not cowering before any sanctions and our warnings are not empty threats’,” Yang Moo-Jin of the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul told AFP.
“It has vowed the US would face ‘pain and suffering’ in retaliation for the UN sanctions.”