North Korean state media announced on Wednesday its satellite launch had ended in failure, sending the booster and payload plunging into the sea.
Pyonyang had previously said it was planning to launch a satellite to monitor US military activity sometime between 31 May and 11 June.
However, the US Indo-Pacific Command said the launch was a “brazen violation” of UN security council resolutions as the technologies involved the country’s intercontinental ballistic missile programme.
The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also condemned the move adding that any launch by Pyongyang using ballistic missile technology was “contrary” to the relevant Security Council resolutions.
A spokesperson for Mr Guterres said: “The Secretary-General strongly condemns the military satellite launch conducted by the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.”
The new “Chollima-1” satellite launch rocket failed because of instability in the engine and fuel system, state news agency KCNA reported.
It was North Korea’s sixth satellite launch attempt, the first since 2016, and was supposed to put the nation’s first spy satellite in orbit.
Instead, it prompted emergency alerts and brief evacuation warnings in parts of South Korea and Japan.
Air raid sirens wailed across the South Korean capital of Seoul about 6.32am local time as the city warned citizens to prepare for a potential evacuation.
“I was so panicked. 911 lines were busy and the internet was slow,” said Lee Juyeon, 33, a resident in the city, who was preparing to shelter in a basement with her young child before learning it was a false alarm.
Seoul Mayor Oh Se-hoon apologised for the confusion caused by the city’s emergency alert being sent out but defended the decision to do so.
He said the emergency text “may have been an overreaction” but “there can be no compromise on safety”.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the military was now conducting a salvage operation to recover what is believed to be parts of the space launch vehicle from the water.
The Japanese government also issued an emergency warning for residents of the southern prefecture of Okinawa to take cover indoors early on Wednesday morning. It later said the rocket would not fly into Japanese territory and lifted the warnings.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said North Korea’s rocket disappeared from radar above the Yellow Sea and did not make it into space.
“We strongly condemn North Korea’s actions,” he said, adding that Tokyo lodged a complaint to Pyongyang through diplomatic channels in Beijing.
Officials from the US, Japan and South Korea “strongly condemned” the launch in a joint phone call on Wednesday, Japan’s foreign ministry said.
“The three countries will stay vigilant with high sense of urgency”, it stated.
Before Wednesday’s launch, the US State Department said any North Korean launch which used ballistic missile technology would violate multiple United Nations Security Council resolutions.
“Space launch vehicles (SLVs) incorporate technologies that are identical to, and interchangeable with, those used in ballistic missiles, including intercontinental ballistic missiles,” a State Department spokesperson said.