North Korea conducts 4th missile test in a month

North Korea fired what appeared to be multiple land-to-ship missiles off its east coast on Thursday, South Korea's military said, the latest in a fast-paced series of missile tests defying world pressure and threats of more sanctions.

Reclusive nation fires suspected land-to-ship missiles as South Korea delays anti-missile system

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un inspects the long-range strategic ballistic rocket in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency on May 15. South Korean military reported that North Korea launched multiple missiles Thursday morning local time. (KCNA/Reuters)
North Korea fired what appeared to be several land-to-ship missiles off its east coast on Thursday, South Korea's military said, a day after the South postponed full deployment of a controversial U.S. 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 program, come less than a week after the United Nations Security Council passed fresh sanctions on the reclusive state.

South Korea on Wednesday said it will hold off on installing remaining components of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system that has angered North Korea's main ally, China, amid early signs of easing tensions between the two countries.

The missiles were launched Thursday morning from the North Korean coastal city of Wonsan and flew about 200 km, South Korea's Office of Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

Under third-generation leader Kim Jong-un, North Korea has been conducting missile tests at an unprecedented pace in an effort to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the mainland United States.

Missiles designed to defend

Compared to the different types of ballistic missiles Pyongyang has recently tested, the missiles launched on Thursday are considered to be more defensive in nature, designed to defend against threats such as enemy warships.

At a railway station in Seoul, South Korea, a South Korean soldier walks past a TV broadcast about the launch. (Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters)

North Korea unveiled a number of new weapons at a massive military parade on April 15 to mark the birth anniversary of the state's founding leader and has since tested some of them.

"What appeared to be a new type of land-to-ship missile equipped with four launching canisters was unveiled at the parade," said Kim Dong-yub, a military expert at Kyungnam University's Far Eastern Studies in Seoul. "I think this might be what was used today."

THAAD defence under review

Thursday's launch is the fourth missile test by North Korea since Moon took office on May 10 pledging to engage in dialogue with Pyongyang, saying sanctions and pressure alone have failed to resolve the growing threat from the North's advancing nuclear and missile program.

Moon had also promised to review the deployment of the U.S. Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system in South Korea.

North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is shown in April at a military parade that unveiled a number of new weapons. It has since tested some of them. (Wong Maye-E/Associated Press)

On Wednesday, his presidential office said installation of four additional launchers would be halted until an assessment of the system's impact on the environment was completed.

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 southeastern city of Seongju. The elements will stay in place, South Korea said.

'Seoul's will has been shaken'

The Global Times, published by China's official People's Daily, said in an editorial that no matter the outcome of the environmental study, South Korea's announcement could reduce friction.

"Obviously, the pressure China puts on South Korea has taken effect. Seoul's will has been shaken," the paper said. "However, attitude is not everything. Without solving the problem of THAAD, the pain it has brought to bilateral relations will not disappear, and South Korea must swallow some of the bitter results."

People watch a TV news program showing a file footage of a missile launched by North Korea, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Thursday. The continuation of weapons tests have rattled Washington and North Korea's neighbours. (Ahn Young-joon/Associated Press)

China should work with Russia on counter-measures to THAAD, the Global Times added.

Asked about the latest missile test, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying called for all parties to 
exercise restraint.
"The UN Security Council resolution has clear rules on [North Korea's] use of ballistic missiles technologies," she 
said. "All sides should work together to de-escalate tensions and take active steps to stabilize the region."

U.S. President Donald Trump has been pressing China aggressively to rein in North Korea, warning that all options, 
including a pre-emptive military strike, are on the table if Pyongyang persists with its nuclear and missile development.

Seoul, Tokyo and Washington were analyzing the launches for further information, South Korean officials said.

North Korea showing off

Japan's navy and air force conducted military drills with two U.S. aircraft carriers in the Sea of Japan last week, following similar joint U.S.-South Korea exercises.

"North Korea likely wanted to show off its ability to precisely target a large warship, in relation to the joint military drills involving U.S. aircraft carriers," Roh Jae-cheon, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman told a media briefing. "By testing different types of missiles, North Korea also appears to be aiming to secure the upper hand in relations with South Korea and the United States."

The isolated country, which has conducted dozens of missile tests and tested two nuclear bombs since the beginning of 2016 in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, says the program is necessary to counter U.S. aggression.