The launch comes as Pyongyang has accused the United States of deliberately escalating the situation by calling for tougher sanctions.
North Korea appears to have tested a missile on Friday — the third test in just over a week, hours after criticizing US pressure to tighten sanctions as a result of its continued testing of banned weapons.
“North Korea is firing an unidentified projectile eastward,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff told Seoul, without elaborating.
The Japan Coast Guard said it detected “a launch from North Korea of what appears to be a ballistic missile or missiles on the 14h55”.
A spokesman for the coast guard told AFP that it was still analyzing the area where the projectile fell and whether it was a single object or several.
If confirmed, the launch would be the third since January 5, when Pyongyang launched what it later said was a hypersonic missile. Leader Kim Jong-un watched the second test of a hypersonic missile on Tuesday, the first time he has been photographed at launch in nearly two years.
Hypersonic weapons are faster and more maneuverable than conventional missiles and are also being developed by China, Russia and the United States.
North Korea insists its military modernization and missile tests are necessary for self-defense, and state media on Friday accused the United States of intentionally escalating the situation by this week by imposing sanctions on individuals, and urged the United Nations to take a tougher stance on Pyongyang. It was imposed gradually by the United Nations for the first time in 2006.
A statement issued by the Foreign Ministry, carried by the official Central News Agency, warned of an unspecified “stronger and sure” reaction if the United States adopted a confrontational stance.
Leif Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Women’s University in Seoul, said Pyongyang has been following a familiar book.
“North Korea is trying to set a trap for the Biden administration,” he said in emailed comments.
It has queued up the missiles it wanted to test anyway and is responding to US pressure with additional provocations in an attempt to extort concessions. Humanitarian assistance should be provided to North Korea as soon as it is ready to re-engage diplomatically. But its threats should not be rewarded with international recognition or sanctions relief.”
Denuclearization talks with Pyongyang have stalled since the collapse of the 2019 Hanoi summit between Kim and then US President Donald Trump.
Joe Biden, who took office as president a year ago, has tried to encourage North Korea to return to the negotiating table, insisting that the United States is open to discussions without conditions.
Pyongyang maintains that while Washington may talk about diplomacy and dialogue, its actions show that it “remains engaged in its policy of isolating and stifling” North Korea.
“The United States is deliberately escalating the situation even with the activation of independent sanctions, not just referring the DPRK’s just activity to the UN Security Council,” the statement said.