SEOUL • North Korea yesterday fired what appeared to be several land-to-ship missiles off its east coast, South Korea's military said, a day after the South postponed full deployment of a controversial United States anti-missile system designed to deter a North Korean attack.
The launches, the latest in a fast-paced series of missile tests defying world pressure to rein in its weapons programme, come less than a week after the United Nations Security Council passed fresh sanctions on the reclusive state.
The missiles were launched yesterday morning from the North Korean coastal city of Wonsan and flew about 200km, South Korea's Office of Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
Cruise missile tests do not contravene UN regulations, Korea Defence Network analyst Lee Il Woo told AFP, adding they were "much slower than ballistic missiles and can be shot down by anti-aircraft guns".
"North Korea is carrying out carefully calibrated provocations... but restraining from ICBM (intercontinental ballistic missile) tests or nuclear explosions which could bring about military retaliations by (US President Donald) Trump," he added.
South Korea on Wednesday said it will hold off installing the remaining components of the US Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (Thaad) system that has angered North Korea's main ally, China, amid early signs of tensions easing between the two countries.
Two launchers of the full six-launcher Thaad battery, as well as the system's far-reaching radar that China worries could upset the regional security balance, have already been installed at a deployment site in the south-eastern city of Seongju. The elements will stay in place, South Korea said.
North Korea has conducted four missile launches since South Korea's President Moon Jae In took office on May 10.
Mid- to long-range Hwasong-12 missile
Two-stage, solid-fuelled Pukguksong-2 missile
Anti-ship ballistic missile KN-17
Four surface-to-ship cruise missiles
Yesterday's launch was the fourth missile test by North Korea since South Korean President Moon Jae In took office on May 10, pledging to engage in dialogue with Pyongyang.
Mr Hong Hyun Ik, analyst at the Sejong Institute think tank, said yesterday's launch was aimed at pressuring Seoul and Washington, ahead of a planned summit between Mr Moon and Mr Trump late this month.
"The North is trying to flaunt its presence... and to pressure Moon to offer a big favour in order to ease tension, like the resumption of a joint economic project," Mr Hong said.
President Moon said yesterday that such provocations would cost Pyongyang to lose opportunities for development.
Under third-generation leader Kim Jong Un, North Korea has been conducting missile tests at an unprecedented pace in an effort to develop an ICBM capable of hitting mainland US States.
Professor Yang Moo Jin of the University of North Korean Studies said Pyongyang was also expressing displeasure over the arrival of the 6,900-ton USS Cheyenne submarine in the South Korean port of Busan on Tuesday.
Experts say the land-to-ship missiles launched yesterday could be one of the new types of weapons unveiled at a massive military parade on April 15 to mark the birth anniversary of the state's founding leader.
Asked about the latest missile test, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying urged all parties to exercise restraint.
In Japan, the ruling party yesterday urged Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to consider building missile shelters and carrying out more evacuation drills in response to the growing threat from North Korea.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG