north korea failed missile launch robert kelly intv_00013920.jpg
north korea failed missile launch robert kelly intv_00013920.jpg
Now playing
03:40
What N. Korea's failed missile launch means
PHOTO: Nicolas Asfouri/Pool/Getty Images/AFP PHOTO/KCNA VIA KNS
Now playing
01:27
North, South Korean leaders to meet again
PHOTO: Airbus Defense and Space
Now playing
01:44
New images show N. Korea dismantling test site
PHOTO: CNNI
Now playing
00:40
Pompeo dismisses N. Korea's 'gangster' comments
SINGAPORE - JUNE 12: In this handout photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump during their historic U.S.-DPRK summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island on June 12, 2018 in Singapore. U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held the historic meeting between leaders of both countries on Tuesday morning in Singapore, carrying hopes to end decades of hostility and the threat of North Korea's nuclear program. (Photo by Kevin Lim/THE STRAITS TIMES/Handout/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Handout/Getty Images AsiaPac/Getty Images
SINGAPORE - JUNE 12: In this handout photo, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un shakes hands with U.S. President Donald Trump during their historic U.S.-DPRK summit at the Capella Hotel on Sentosa island on June 12, 2018 in Singapore. U.S. President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un held the historic meeting between leaders of both countries on Tuesday morning in Singapore, carrying hopes to end decades of hostility and the threat of North Korea's nuclear program. (Photo by Kevin Lim/THE STRAITS TIMES/Handout/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:56
Kim Jong Un snubbed Mike Pompeo, source says
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09:  National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks on a morning television show from the grounds of the White House, on May 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Yesterday President Donald Trump announced that America was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
PHOTO: Mark Wilson/Getty Images
WASHINGTON, DC - MAY 09: National Security Adviser John Bolton speaks on a morning television show from the grounds of the White House, on May 9, 2018 in Washington, DC. Yesterday President Donald Trump announced that America was withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Now playing
01:34
Bolton: US has plan for denuclearizing N. Korea
PHOTO: Planet Labs Inc.
Now playing
01:25
Satellite images show missile plant construction
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:14
Susan Rice: Kim Jong Un beat Trump at summit
Images of the Norrth Korea missile launch on November 28 taken from Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's official newspaper.
PHOTO: From Rodong Sinmun
Images of the Norrth Korea missile launch on November 28 taken from Rodong Sinmun, North Korea's official newspaper.
Now playing
02:14
Will North Korea restart nuclear tests?
PHOTO: Photo Illustration/Getty Images
Now playing
03:00
Will Kim Jong Un ever give up his nukes?
PHOTO: Photo Illustration/Getty Images
Now playing
02:27
What's bringing Kim Jong Un to the table
Now playing
01:51
Who is Kim Jong Un?
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
01:43
Connolly: Trump comment on Kim 'jaw-dropping'
Now playing
02:31
Moon: The masterful dealmaker
Trump Kim Jong Un comment 04240218
PHOTO: CNN
Trump Kim Jong Un comment 04240218
Now playing
01:26
Trump: Kim Jong Un very open and honorable
Now playing
03:06
Finding art on the edge of the DMZ

Story highlights

Missile was launched near Kalma, on North Korea's east coast

It comes four days after Pyongyang announced it tested a new rocket engine

(CNN) —  

A North Korean missile fired Wednesday exploded “within seconds of launch,” according to US Pacific Command.

US officials confirmed North Korea had attempted to launch a missile near Kalma, on the country’s east coast, but early reports suggest it failed.

“South Korea and the US are aware of the missile launch and to their knowledge North Korea’s missile was not successfully launched,” South Korea’s Ministry of Defense said in a statement.

Neither the US nor South Korea have released information on what type of missile was fired, or why it failed. The US Pacific Command said it was working with partners to assess it further.

At a daily press briefing Wednesday, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying again called on all parties on the Korean Peninsula, including South Korea and the United States, to “exercise restraint.”

“The current situation on the peninsula is extremely tense – ‘everyone with his dagger drawn’ would be a fair description,” she said.

The attempted launch comes four days after the North Korea announced it had tested a new rocket engine, describing it as a “great leap forward” in their missile program.

US defense officials told CNN the engine could be used for a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile.

North Korea’s ‘signal’ to the South

Against the background of the launch, South Korea and the United States continued their annual “Foal Eagle” military exercises, which often provoke retaliation from the North Koreans. The “Foal Eagle” exercises began on March 1 and will end on April 30.

Robert Kelly, associate professor of political science at Pusan National University, told CNN the latest launch was a “signal” to South Korea from their northern neighbor.

“The North Koreans respond to (the drills) almost every year with some kind of outlash or provocation or something like that,” he said. “Missile tests are a nice way to send a signal.”

Speaking to reporters, Hua reiterated China’s proposal for an end to the US-South Korean drills in exchange for North Korea halting its nuclear program.

“We consider (the proposal) the only correct, fair and reasonable way out of the current dilemma … As the saying goes, ‘let he who tied the bell on the tiger take it off’,” she said.

Second launch in a month

It isn’t the North Korea’s first launch this month – the country fired four intermediate-range ballistic missiles on March 6, which fell into waters off Japan.

01:50 - Source: CNN
Report: North Korea tests new rocket engine

Three of them landed less than 200 nautical miles off the Japanese coast, antagonizing the South Korean and Japanese governments.

At the time, experts told CNN the rapid series of launches indicated North Korea was speeding up their weapons program, deploying and developing missiles faster.

“They did a launch (in February), they’re now launching more in 30 days. That’s a third of the time they used to need,” Carl Schuster, a professor at Hawaii Pacific University, told CNN at the time.

In February, a senior Trump administration official told reporters the US President believed North Korea was the “greatest immediate threat” to the United States.

Kelly said the US was still struggling to find a way to rein in North Korea’s aggressive behavior.

“Ideally we’d find a diplomatic solution, but the North Koreans have to be willing to come around or the Chinese have to twist their arm and that’s what everyone is hoping,” he said.

Recent failed missile tests

North Korea’s missile program may be accelerating quickly but there have been stumbles along the way, especially with its attempts to launch Musudan missiles.

01:03 - Source: CNN
One thing to know about North Korea's missiles

The Musudan is a intermediate-range ballistic missile with a range of 2,500 to 4,000 kilometers (1,500 to 2,500 miles), far enough to reach Japan or Guam.

Two missiles, thought to be Musudans, failed to launch successfully within one week in October.

The previous June, of two missiles launched, one didn’t make it further than 150 kilometers (93 miles). The other flew 400 kilometers (250 miles) before falling into the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea, which North Korea claimed was a success.

Still, both of those were more successful than North Korea’s launches earlier in 2016.

In May, one Musudan flew for about two seconds before exploding, while an April launch was described by the Pentagon as a “fiery, catastrophic failure,” according to CSIS.

Even the four missiles launched this month, which North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appeared to celebrate in state media photos, didn’t go off without a hitch – a fifth missile failed to launch as planned.

At the time, a US official said the projectiles involved in that test were extended-range SCUD missiles.

Correction: This article has been corrected to refer to Hua Chunying as a foreign ministry spokeswoman.