North Korean leader Kim Jong-un has called for more efforts to build up the country's “military muscle” after he observed the test of a hypersonic missile.
The comments reported by North Korean state media on Wednesday, came a day after the militaries of the US, South Korea and Japan said they detected North Korea firing a suspected ballistic missile into its eastern sea.
The Korean Central News Agency said Tuesday’s launch involved a hypersonic glide vehicle, which after its release from the rocket booster demonstrated “glide jump flight” and “corkscrew manoeuvring” before hitting a sea target 1,000km away.
Photos released by the agency showed a missile mounted with a cone-shaped payload soaring into the sky while leaving a trail of orange flames and Mr Kim watching with top officials from a small cabin, including his sister Kim Yo Jong.
The second test of a "hypersonic missile" in less than a week backs up Mr Kim's new year vow to bolster the military with cutting-edge technology at a time when talks with South Korea and the US have stalled.
After watching the test, Mr Kim urged military scientists to "further accelerate the efforts to steadily build up the country's strategic military muscle both in quality and quantity and further modernise the army," KCNA news agency reported.
It was the first time since March 2020 that Kim had officially attended a missile test.
"His presence here would suggest particular attention on this programme," Ankit Panda, a senior fellow at the US-based Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, posted on Twitter.
Unlike other recent tests, ruling party newspaper Rodong Sinmun published photos of Mr Kim attending the launch on its front page.
"While Mr Kim probably unofficially attended other tests in the interim, this appearance and its page one feature on Rodong Sinmun is important," said Chad O'Carroll, chief executive of Korea Risk Group, which monitors North Korea. "It means Kim is not concerned about being personally associated [with] tests of major new tech. And doesn't care how the US sees this."
UN Security Council resolutions ban all North Korean ballistic missile and nuclear tests and have imposed sanctions over the programmes.
Talks aimed at persuading North Korea to surrender or limit its arsenal of nuclear weapons and missiles have stalled, with Pyongyang saying it is open to diplomacy but only if the United States and its allies stop "hostile policies" such as sanctions or military drills.
'Dangerous and destabilising'
US Undersecretary of State for Political Affairs Victoria Nuland called the launches dangerous and destabilising.
"It obviously takes us in the wrong direction," she said at a regular briefing in Washington on Tuesday. "As you know, the United States has been saying since this administration came in that we are open to dialogue with North Korea, that we are open to talking about Covid and humanitarian support, and instead they're firing off missiles."
The EU on Tuesday condemned the latest North Korean missile launch as a "threat to international peace and security" and called on Pyongyang to resume diplomacy.
Reuters and AP contributed to this report