It does not matter whether it was meant as a provocation, a test, or simply a call for attention. It may have been any of those, or all.
The test-firing of the Pukguksong-2 intermediate-range ballistic missile on Sunday, which was in no way conducive to the Democratic People's Republic of Korea's pursuit of the international recognition and respect it covets, was a timely reminder of an outstanding security challenge the Donald Trump presidency faces.
It might have been an invitation for direct interaction with the United States. But there is no sign that will happen.
As of now, what Pyongyang has received in return, apart from immediate condemnation from the United Nations and calls from the US, Japan and the Republic of Korea for harsher sanctions, is Trump's vow to deal with it "very strongly" and the US' "100 per cent" solidarity with Japan.
However, Pyongyang will not stop now. That the US has not shown any willingness to engage can be read as a sign of indecisiveness and may thus inspire further provocations.
Yet Pyongyang will not get what it thinks it deserves, especially being accepted internationally as a legitimate, respectable nuclear power. For its persistent threats of "nuclear elimination" of "enemy states" alone, it cannot but be deemed as a threat. That is why the UN, along with all countries in Northeast Asia, has remained steadfast on denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.
And that is why China and Russia, while consistently appealing for caution and restraint in dealing with Pyongyang and due respect for its security concerns, have joined the international chorus of condemnation and thrown their weight behind the recent UN sanctions.
The UN Security Council may or may not agree on additional, stronger sanctions this time, given member countries' divergences on the right approach to adopt. Even if a new package is approved, it is unlikely to suffice to stop Pyongyang's nuclear weapons programme and missile stunts. Over the years, the world has watched as that programme has grown and thrived despite all the condemnations and sanctions.
Which is why the missile launch should be a wake-up call for rethinking the response to Pyongyang's actions and intimidation.
A solid-fuel engine itself may not suffice to make the Pukguksong-2 a "game changer". Pyongyang may not come up with missile technologies capable of intercontinental attacks soon. But the vicious cycle will not end unless the root cause, the decades-old hostility between Pyongyang on the one hand, and Seoul and Washington on the other, is addressed.
All parties should step up communication and engagement to secure a peaceful settlement of the DPRK nuclear issue.
China Daily is a member of The Straits Times media partner Asia News Network, an alliance of 22 news media entities.