North Korea fired a ballistic missile in the direction of Japan while the nation’s prime minister was enjoying a round of golf with President Trump in Florida.
After receiving word of the launch, the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe described the move as “intolerable”.
The new American administration has said in response it will seek to bolster its alliances in the region.
As is usual, there has been no confirmation of the launch from the DPRK, which recently announced it was ready to launch its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
However, the US Strategic Command has said the projectile launched today was only a medium or intermediate range missile.
The launch came as the president was hosting Prime Minister Abe on an official visit. Appearing with Mr Trump at a news conference, the Japanese leader said: “North Korea’s most recent missile launch is absolutely intolerable”.
Abe then read a brief statement in which he called for the DPRK to comply with UN Security Council resolutions. He also said that President Trump had assured him of ongoing US support.
Referring to the launch, President Tump 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.”
Stephen Miller, the president’s chief policy adviser, described the meeting as “an important show of solidarity”.
He also said: “We are going to reinforce and strengthen our vital alliances in the Pacific region as part of our strategy to deter and prevent the increasing hostility that we’ve seen in recent years from the North Korean regime.
“The message we’re sending to the world right now is a message of strength and solidarity — we stand with Japan and we stand with our allies in the region to address the North Korean menace.”
South Korea’s military top brass said in a statement that the missile was fired from somewhere near Banghyon, North Pyongyang Province, where it is believed the DPRK test-launched its mid-range Musudan missile last October.
The spokesmen said the missile flew for more than 300 miles. South Korea’s Yonhap News Agency has reported that it was not believed to have intercontinental capabilities.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga has confirmed that the missile splashed down outside of his country’s territorial seas.
The DPRK was condemned after conducting two nuclear tests and a number of rocket launches last year.
In his New Year address, Kim Jong Un said his country was ready to test an ICBM as part of the country’s ongoing drive to develop nuclear capabilities that could directly threaten the USA.
Although Pyongyang has remained tight-lipped about Mr Trump’s election, its state media has repeatedly called for Washington to abandon its “hostile policy” — while making nuclear and missile development a central plank of regime policy.
Kim Dong Yeop, an analyst at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul, said the missile was probably a Musudan rocket being used to test engines for an ICBM that could potentially hit the American mainland.
Analysts are divided, however, over how close the DPRK is to having a reliable long-range rocket that could be coupled with a warhead capable of striking the US.
South Korean Prime Minister Hwang Kyo Ahn, who is also the acting president, has vowed his country will punish North Korea for its latest missile launch.