South Korea's defense ministry has said that Pyongyang has attempted to launch an unidentified missile. Under UN measures, North Korea is prohibited from any use of ballistic missile technology.
North Korea's failed test launch of a medium range missile provoked condemnation from South Korea and its allies and a milder rebuke from its only ally, China.
South Korea's defense ministry issued a statement on Tuesday, saying that the failed missile test took place at around 5:20 a.m. local time (2020 UTC, Monday), near the eastern port city of Wonsan.
"We believe that it was a failure," said Jeon Ha-Gyu, spokesman for the South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff. "As to why and how it failed, we are in the process of analysing that."
He added, "We are maintaining a strong defense posture with potential further provocations by the North in mind."
South Korea's Yonhap news agency quoted military sources, saying the medium-range missile was understood to be a Musudan .
The test on Tuesday came amid growing fears that the North is getting ever closer to reaching its goal of creating a nuclear missile, capable of hitting mainland America.
In April, the North failed three times to test-fire a Musudan, which has an estimated range of anywhere between 1,550 to 2,500 miles (2,500 and 4,000 kilometers).
The lower range covers the whole of South Korea and Japan, while the upper range would include US military bases on the island of Guam. To date, the missile has never been successfully flight-tested.
The US military "strongly" condemned the launch attempt.
"These actions, and North Korea's continued pursuit of ballistic missile and nuclear weapons capabilities, pose a significant threat to the United States, our allies, and to the stability of the greater Asia-Pacific," said the statement from the US Strategic Command (USSTRATCOM). "We call on North Korea to refrain from actions that further raise tensions in the region."
Japan's Foerign Minister Fumio Kishida also chastized Pyongyang during a regular press briefing.
"North Korea's repeated ballistic missile launches are serious, provocative acts against the international community, including Japan," Kishida said. "We absolutely cannot accept this."
China, the North's only reliable ally, stopped short of condemning the test launch but a foreign minsitry spokesman made clear that it opposed the move.
"The situation on the peninsula remains complex and sensitive," Hua Chunying said at a briefing when asked about the launch. "We think that all sides should avoid any actions that further worsen tensions."
An atomic test in January and the launch of a long-range ballistic missile in February also prompted a tightening of international sanctions on North Korea.
Dispute over western sea boundary
Tensions are also high on the divided Korean peninsula as Pyongyang pushes Seoul to accept leader Kim Jong-Un's proposal for talks, aimed at easing cross-border tensions.
Pyongyang threatened last week to fire at South Korean warships if they crossed into North Korean waters. The move came a day after the South Korean navy fired warning shots to chase away two North Korean ships that had crossed a disputed western sea boundary.
Minor incidents are quite common on the western sea boundary. The line, which was drawn by the American-led UN command at the end of the 1950-53 Korean War, is not recognized by the North.
ksb/jr (Reuters, AFP, AP)