TENSIONS have escalated after the North tested a new ballistic missile which landed in the Sea of Japan yesterday.

The launch is a direct challenge to the new South Korean president Moon Jae-in, elected four days ago, and comes as US, Japanese and European navies gather for joint war games in the Pacific.

It wasn’t clear what type of ballistic missile was launched, although US Pacific Command said “the flight is not consistent with an intercontinental ballistic missile”.

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Outside militaries will closely analyse what the North fired. While Pyongyang regularly tests shorter-range missiles, it is also working to master the technology needed to field nuclear-tipped missiles that can reach the US mainland.

Past North Korean missiles have flown farther than yesterday’s test, landing closer to Japan, but this launch follows a series of high-profile failures.

Whatever the type of missile, the launch forces the new South Korean leader to put dealing with Pyongyang above the domestic economic agenda he made a priority during his early days in office.

Moon, a liberal who favours a softer approach to the North than his conservative predecessors, strongly condemned the launch during an emergency national security meeting.

He called it a clear violation of UN Security Council resolutions and a serious challenge to international peace and security, according to senior presidential secretary Yoon Young-chan.

“The president expressed deep regret over the fact that this provocation occurred just days after a new government was launched in South Korea,” Yoon said.

“The president said we are leaving open the possibility of dialogue with North Korea, but we should sternly deal with a provocation to prevent North Korea from miscalculating.”

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the missile flew about 500 miles from a launch site on North Korea’s western coast for about 30 minutes and landed in the Sea of Japan, but not inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the launch is “absolutely unacceptable”.