North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile on Sunday, drawing condemnation from the United States and its Asian allies in what analysts said was a bid by Pyongyang to probe the intentions of new U.S. President Donald Trump.
The first North Korean launch of the Trump era took place as Trump was hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. It sent an intermediate-range missile flying about 500 kms (310 miles) before landing into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan, according to South Korea's military.
Appearing with Trump at a news conference at Trump's Mar-a-Lago Club in Florida, Abe condemned the missile launch as "absolutely intolerable" and called on North Korea to comply fully with U.N. Security Council resolutions banning such tests and other acts of nuclear and missile proliferation.
Speaking after Abe, Trump said: "I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 per cent."
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the missile was fired from near Banghyon, North Pyongan Province, believed to be the site where North Korea tested a Musudan missile on Oct. 15 and 20.
North Korea, which had issued a warning last month that it was ready to test its first intercontinental ballistic missile, had yet to announce Sunday's test, which came just days before the North is to mark the 75th birthday on Feb. 16 of leader Kim Jong Un's late father, Kim Jong Il.
South Korean analysts said it appeared that Pyongyang was using the test to sound out the Trump administration as it forms its policies toward Asia.
"This is essentially a low-intensity provocation to see how the Trump government responds," Professor Kim Yong-hyun of Dongkuk University in Seoul told RFA's Korean Service.
Kim Dong-yop of the Institute for Far Eastern Studies at Kyungnam University told RFA North Korea intends to demonstrate to the Trump administration that returning to long-stalled talks was "not merely important, but urgent."
North Korea expert Andrei Lankov of Kookmin University in Seoul told RFA that Sunday's test launch demonstrated North Korea's commitment to improving its missile capabilities.
"This is not the ICBM capable of hitting the continental U.S. yet, but another step toward developing such an ICBM. And this is also a reminder that the nuclear and missile program of North Korea will not go away," said Lankov.
Reported by RFA's Korean Service. Written in English by Paul Eckert.