(ATTN: UPDATES with U.S. military's response in paras 7-9)
By Song Sang-ho and Kang Yoon-seung
SEOUL, Jan. 5 (Yonhap) -- North Korea on Wednesday fired what appears to be a ballistic missile toward the East Sea, South Korea's military said, in the recalcitrant regime's first show of force this year.
The North launched the missile eastward at around 8:10 a.m. from a site in its northern province of Jagang bordering China, the Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said without further elaboration.
Jagang Province is the region from which the North fired what it claimed to be a hypersonic missile, called Hwasong-8, in September last year.
"In consideration of what we have detected, the intelligence authorities of South Korea and the United States are conducting a detailed analysis," the JCS said in a text message sent to reporters.
South Korea's military in cooperation with the U.S. is closely watching related North Korean movements and maintaining a readiness posture against the possibility of the North's additional launches, the JCS said.
It marks the North's first projectile launch since the regime fired off a new submarine-launched ballistic missile in October last year.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said it is aware of the "ballistic missile launch" while assessing that it "does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel or territory or to our allies."
"The ballistic missile launch highlights the destabilizing impact of the DPRK's illicit weapons program," the command said in a statement, referring to the North by its official name, the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.
"The U.S. commitment to the defense of the Republic of Korea and Japan remains ironclad," it added.
The latest saber-rattling came just days after the North concluded a five-day Central Committee plenary of the ruling Workers' Party on Friday, highlighting its key focus on economic issues and its pandemic response.
At the plenary, participants stressed the importance of boosting their country's defense capabilities, pointing to the growing instability of the security situation on the Korean Peninsula.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un did not issue any particular messages for the South or the United States at the gathering, but the latest launch appears aimed partially at raising the stakes for future talks with the allies, analysts said.
Wednesday's launch could also be part of the North's wintertime drills, some observers said.
The launch came amid expectations the North could refrain from major strategic provocations that could undermine the mood for peace in the lead-up to the Beijing Winter Olympics slated for next month.
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