SEOUL Feb 27 (Reuters) – North Korea fired a ballistic missile on Sunday, military officials in South Korea and Japan said, in the first test since Kim Jong conducted a record number of launches in January.

 

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) reported that North Korea had fired a suspected ballistic missile toward the sea off its east coast from a location near Sunan, where Pyongyang’s international airport is located.

 

The airport has been the site of missile tests, including a pair of short-range ballistic missiles fired on Jan. 16. Sunday’s missile flew around to a maximum altitude of around 385 miles, to a range of 186 miles, JCS said.

 

Analysts said the flight data didn’t closely match earlier tests, and suggested it could be a medium-range ballistic missile fired on a “lofted” trajectory.

 

“There have been frequent launches since the start of the year, and North Korea is continuing to rapidly develop ballistic missile technology,” Japan’s Defense Minister Nobuo Kishi said in a televised statement. North Korea was threatening the security of Japan, the region and the international community, he said.

 

North Korea’s last test was on Jan. 30, when it fired a Hwasong-12 intermediate range ballistic missile. The largest weapon test-fired since 2017, the Hwasong-12 was reported to have flown to an altitude of about 2,000 km (1,200 miles) and range of 800 km (500 miles). That capped a record month of mostly short-range missile launches in January.

 

Sunday’s launch came less than two weeks ahead of South Korea’s March 9 presidential election, amid fears by some in Seoul and Tokyo that Pyongyang may push ahead with missile development while international attention is focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

 

“This launch comes as the international community is responding to the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and if North Korea is making use of that situation, it is something we cannot tolerate,” Kishi said.

 

China’s representative on the Korean Peninsula, Liu Xiaoming, said on Sunday he spoke by phone with his U.S. counterpart, Sung Kim, and urged the United States to address North Korea’s legitimate and reasonable concerns with greater attention, so as to create conditions for restarting dialogue.

 

“I pointed out that, under current situation, relevant parties should be cautious in words and actions, avoid stimulating each other, so as to prevent escalation of tension on the Korean Peninsula,” Liu said on Twitter, without specifying when the phone conversation took place and without mentioning the latest test.

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