North Korea says its recently tested new intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) was launched from a newly developed vehicle and the warhead can withstand the pressure of re-entering the earth's atmosphere.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un personally guided the missile test on Wednesday and said the new launcher was "impeccable", state media said. He described the new vehicle as a "breakthrough".
Observers and analysts have cast doubt on North Korea's ability to master the technology needed to design a warhead capable of withstanding the enormous pressure of re-entry into the earth's atmosphere and suggested the isolated country may still be years away from developing a credible delivery vehicle for a nuclear weapon.
But Wednesday's launch re-confirmed "the safety of a warhead in the atmospheric re-entry environment," state media said, without elaborating.
The North said in a special televised announcement hours after the launch that it had successfully fired what it called the Hwasong-15, a new nuclear-capable ICBM that's "significantly more" powerful than the North's previously tested long-range weapon. Outside governments and analysts backed up the North's claim to a jump in missile capability.
A resumption of Pyongyang's torrid testing pace in pursuit of its goal of a viable arsenal of nuclear-tipped missiles that can hit the US mainland had been widely expected, but the apparent power and suddenness of the new test still jolted the Korean Peninsula and Washington.
The launch at 3:17am (local) time indicated an effort to perfect the element of surprise and to obtain maximum attention in the United States.
The firing is a clear message of defiance aimed at the Trump administration, which had just restored the North to a US list of terror sponsors. It also ruins nascent diplomatic efforts, raises fears of war or a pre-emptive US strike and casts a deeper shadow over the security of the Winter Olympics early next year in South Korea.
A rattled Seoul responded by almost immediately launching three of its own missiles in a show of force. The South's president, Moon Jae-in, expressed worry that North Korea's growing missile threat could force the United States to attack the North before it masters a nuclear-tipped long-range missile, something experts say may be imminent.
"If North Korea completes a ballistic missile that could reach from one continent to another, the situation can spiral out of control," Mr Moon said at an emergency meeting in Seoul, according to his office. "We must stop a situation where North Korea miscalculates and threatens us with nuclear weapons or where the United States considers a pre-emptive strike."
China expressed "grave concern" about the latest ICBM that landed close to Japan.
China hopes all parties act cautiously to preserve peace and stability, foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang told a regular news briefing on Wednesday.
Russia said the test will provoke further tension in the region and moves all the sides involved further away from the point where a settlement of the crisis can begin.
Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said Moscow hopes that all sides involved can stay calm, saying this was necessary to avoid a worst-case scenario on the Korean peninsula.