North Korea's failed missile launch prompts 'saber-rattling' jibe from China media

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Yonhap News Reports North Korea Preparing Intermediate-Range Missiles

SEOUL, April 15 (Reuters) - North Korea attempted and failed to launch what experts believe was an intermediate-range ballistic missile on Friday in defiance of U.N. sanctions and in an embarrassing setback for leader Kim Jong Un, drawing criticism from major ally China.

The failed launch, as the reclusive country celebrates the "Day of the Sun" on the birthday of Kim's grandfather, follows the North's fourth nuclear test in January and a long-range rocket launch in February, which led to new U.N. sanctions.

But the North has nevertheless pushed ahead with its missile program, supervised by Kim, in breach of U.N. Security Council resolutions.

See more on the tension between North and South Korea:

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Tension between South and North Korea
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North Korea's failed missile launch prompts 'saber-rattling' jibe from China media
A man watches a TV screen showing a file footage of the missile launch conducted by North Korea, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, March 18, 2016. North Korea defied U.N. resolutions by firing a medium-range ballistic missile into the sea on Friday, Seoul and Washington officials said, days after its leader Kim Jong Un ordered weapons tests linked to its pursuit of a long-range nuclear missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. The letters on the screen read " The missile puts all of South Korea and part of Japan within striking distance." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
An anti-war protester clenches his fist during a rally opposing the joint military exercises, dubbed Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, between the U.S. and South Korea, near the government complex in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, March 19, 2016. North Korea ignored U.N. resolutions by firing a medium-range ballistic missile into the sea on Friday, Seoul and Washington officials said, days after its leader Kim Jong Un ordered weapons tests linked to its pursuit of a long-range nuclear missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. The letters at a card read " Stop military exercise". (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
People watch a TV screen showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during a news program, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Tuesday, March 15, 2016. North Korean leader Kim has warned of impending tests of a nuclear warhead explosion and ballistic missiles capable of carrying atomic warheads, state media reported Tuesday, in an escalation of threats against Seoul and Washington. The screen reads "Nuclear technology." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean army soldiers ride a K-1 tank during the annual exercise with their U.S. counterparts in Paju, near the border with North Korea, Thursday, March 10, 2016. North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea on Thursday, South Korea's military said, a likely show of anger at continuing springtime war games by rivals Washington and Seoul and another ratcheting up of hostility on the already anxious Korean Peninsula. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
Anti-war protesters stage a rally opposing the joint military exercises, dubbed Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, between the U.S. and South Korea, near the government complex in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, March 19, 2016. North Korea ignored U.N. resolutions by firing a medium-range ballistic missile into the sea on Friday, Seoul and Washington officials said, days after its leader Kim Jong Un ordered weapons tests linked to its pursuit of a long-range nuclear missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. The letters at banners, read" Stop military exercise". (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
People watch a TV screen showing a file footage of a missile launch conducted by North Korea, at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, March 18, 2016. North Korea defied U.N. resolutions by firing a medium-range ballistic missile into the sea on Friday, Seoul and Washington officials said, days after its leader Kim Jong Un ordered weapons tests linked to its pursuit of a long-range nuclear missile capable of reaching the U.S. mainland. The letters on the screen read " North Korea fired a missile against the ongoing joint military exercises,dubbed Key Resolve and Foal Eagle, between South Korea and the United States.: (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
FILE - In this March 10, 2016, file photo, U.S. Army soldiers conduct the annual exercise with their South Korean counterparts in Pocheon, near the border with North Korea. North Korea said Saturday, March 12, 2016, its military is ready to pre-emptively attack and "liberate" the South in its latest outburst against the annual joint military drills by the United States and South Korea. In a statement carried through state media, the General Staff of the North's Korean People's Army said its frontline units are prepared to strike first if they see signs that American and South Korean troops involved in the drills were attempting to invade the North. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon, File)
People watch a TV news program showing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with superimposed letters that read: "North Korea has made nuclear warheads small enough to fit on ballistic missiles" at Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Wednesday, March 9, 2016. The official North Korean news agency says the communist country's leader Kim met his nuclear scientists for a briefing and declared he was greatly pleased that warheads had been miniaturized for use on ballistic missiles. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean protesters shout slogans during a rally criticizing U.N. sanction on North Korea and upcoming joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea in Seoul, South Korea, Saturday, March 5, 2016. North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his military on standby for nuclear strikes at any time, state media reported Friday, an escalation in rhetoric targeting rivals Seoul and Washington that may not yet reflect the country's actual nuclear capacity. The banners read " Stop the joint military exercises between the U.S. and South Korea," and "Park Geun-hye, step down." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
North Korean defectors wearing masks of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un attend a rally against North Korea's rocket launch and nuclear test in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. South Korea has cut off power and water supplies to a factory park in North Korea, officials said Friday, a day after the North deported all South Korean workers there and ordered a military takeover of the complex that had been the last major symbol of cooperation between the rivals. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A woman poses for a souvenir photo in front of ribbons hanging on a wire fence for the reunification of the two Koreas at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. South Korea has cut off power and water supplies to a factory park in North Korea, officials said Friday, a day after the North deported all South Korean workers there and ordered a military takeover of the complex that had been the last major symbol of cooperation between the rivals. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Transmission towers supplying power to the Kaesong Industrial Complex from South Korea, are seen on a foggy and rainy day after South Korea cut off power, in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. South Korea has cut off power and water supplies to a factory park in North Korea, officials said Friday, a day after the North deported all South Korean workers there and ordered a military takeover of the complex that had been the last major symbol of cooperation between the rivals. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Tourists take their souvenir photos in front of ribbons hanging on a wire fence wishing for the reunification of the two Koreas at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. South Korea has cut off power and water supplies to a factory park in North Korea, officials said Friday, a day after the North deported all South Korean workers there and ordered a military takeover of the complex that had been the last major symbol of cooperation between the rivals. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Tourists take their souvenir photos with a directional sign showing the distance to North Korea's Kaesong city and South Korea's capital Seoul at the Imjingak Pavilion near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. South Korea has cut off power and water supplies to a factory park in North Korea, officials said Friday, a day after the North deported all South Korean workers there and ordered a military takeover of the complex that had been the last major symbol of cooperation between the rivals. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
One of owners who run a factory in the suspended inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex, covers his face with his hands during an emergency meeting, held by the council of South Korean companies operating in the industrial park, in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. North Korea on Thursday ordered a military takeover of a factory park that had been the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, calling Seoul's earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility as punishment for the North's recent rocket launch a "dangerous declaration of war."(AP Photo/Ahnn Young-joon)
South Korean vehicles pass near the military barricade as a soldier, right, stands in the foggy and rainy morning at Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. North Korea on Thursday ordered a military takeover of a factory park that had been the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, calling Seoul's earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility as punishment for the North's recent rocket launch a "dangerous declaration of war." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
South Korean Army soldiers walk on a foggy and rainy morning at Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. North Korea on Thursday ordered a military takeover of a factory park that had been the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, calling Seoul's earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility as punishment for the North's recent rocket launch a "dangerous declaration of war." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
South Korean Army military polices check the vehicles on a foggy and rainy morning at Unification Bridge near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. North Korea on Thursday ordered a military takeover of a factory park that had been the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, calling Seoul's earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility as punishment for the North's recent rocket launch a "dangerous declaration of war." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
South Korean Unification Minister Hong Yong-pyo speaks in a televised press conference, as owners watch it during an emergency meeting held by the council of South Korean companies operating in the inter-Korean Kaesong industrial complex, in Seoul, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. North Korea on Thursday ordered a military takeover of a factory park that had been the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, calling Seoul's earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility as punishment for the North's recent rocket launch a "dangerous declaration of war."(AP Photo/Ahnn Young-joon)
South Korean owners who run a factory in the suspended inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex, attend an emergency meeting held by the council of South Korean companies operating in the industrial park, in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. North Korea on Thursday ordered a military takeover of the factory park that had been the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, calling Seoul's earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility as punishment for the North's recent rocket launch a "dangerous declaration of war."(AP Photo/Ahnn Young-joon)
South Korean owners who run factories in the suspended inter-Korean Kaesong Industrial Complex, attend an emergency meeting in Seoul, South Korea, Friday, Feb. 12, 2016. North Korea on Thursday ordered a military takeover of a factory park that had been the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, calling Seoul's earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility as punishment for the North's recent rocket launch a "dangerous declaration of war."(AP Photo/Ahnn Young-joon)
In this Feb. 11, 2016, photo, power supply towers are seen in Paju, near the border with North Korea, South Korea. South Korea has cut off power and water supplies to a factory park in North Korea, officials said Friday, Feb. 12, 2016, a day after the North deported all South Korean workers there and ordered a military takeover of the complex that had been the last major symbol of cooperation between the rivals.(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean business men return from North Korea's joint Kaesong Industrial Complex at the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom, in Paju, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. North Korea on Thursday ordered a military takeover of a factory park that had been the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, calling Seoul's earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility as punishment for the North's recent rocket launch a "dangerous declaration of war."(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Koreans holding umbrellas wait for their companies' vehicles returning from North Korea's joint Kaesong Industrial Complex after crossing the Unification Bridge, near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. North Korea on Thursday ordered a military takeover of a factory park that had been the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, calling Seoul's earlier suspension of operations at the jointly run facility as punishment for the North's recent rocket launch a "dangerous declaration of war." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
South Korean Army soldiers patrol at the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom in Paju, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. North Korea on Thursday ordered a military takeover of a factory park that was the last major symbol of cooperation with South Korea, saying Seoul's suspension of operations at the jointly run facility was a "dangerous declaration of war." (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A man watches a television news program reporting about the recent rocket launch by North Korea at the Seoul Train Station in Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. Under the gaze of armed soldiers, large white trucks streamed across the world's most armed border Thursday as South Korean workers on Thursday began shutting down a jointly run industrial park in North Korea. The South's suspension will end, at least temporarily, the Koreas' last major cooperation project as punishment over Pyongyang's recent rocket launch. The letters read: "North, Long range missile launch." (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
A South Korean man holding a crossed North Korean flag shouts slogans among placards with crossed portraits of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pasted with the radiation warning symbol during an anti-North Korea rally in downtown Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. Under the gaze of armed soldiers, large white trucks streamed across the world's most armed border Thursday as South Korean workers on Thursday began shutting down a jointly run industrial park in North Korea. The South's suspension will end, at least temporarily, the Koreas' last major cooperation project as punishment over Pyongyang's recent rocket launch. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Pictures of North Korean flags, the North's leader Kim Jong Un and North's missiles are burned by anti-North Korea protesters during a rally in downtown Seoul, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. Under the gaze of armed soldiers, large white trucks streamed across the world's most armed border Thursday as South Korean workers on Thursday began shutting down a jointly run industrial park in North Korea. The South's suspension will end, at least temporarily, the Koreas' last major cooperation project as punishment over Pyongyang's recent rocket launch.(AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
South Korean vehicles returning from North Korea's joint Kaesong Industrial Complex pass the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom, in Paju, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. South Korean workers on Thursday began shutting down a jointly run industrial park in North Korea, a move that will end, at least temporarily, the Koreas' last major cooperation project as punishment over Pyongyang's recent rocket launch. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
South Korean Army soldiers patrol at the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom, in Paju, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. South Korean workers on Thursday began shutting down a jointly run industrial park in North Korea, a move that will end, at least temporarily, the Koreas' last major cooperation project as punishment over Pyongyang's recent rocket launch. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A South Korean Army soldier stands guard at the customs, immigration and quarantine office near the border village of Panmunjom, in Paju, South Korea, Thursday, Feb. 11, 2016. South Korean workers on Thursday began shutting down a jointly run industrial park in North Korea, a move that will end, at least temporarily, the Koreas' last major cooperation project as punishment over Pyongyang's recent rocket launch. (AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)
A visitor looks at a map of the Korean peninsula at the exhibition hall of the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. South Korea says it will suspend the operations at a joint industrial park with North Korea in response to the North's recent rocket launch. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
A visitor looks at the map of Kaesong Industrial Complex in North Korea at its showroom at the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. South Korea says it will suspend the operations at a joint industrial park with North Korea in response to the North's recent rocket launch. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
Visitors use binoculars to see the North Korean territory from the unification observatory in Paju, South Korea, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 2016. South Korea said Wednesday that it would suspend operations at a joint industrial park with North Korea in response to the North's recent rocket launch, the first time in the park's decade of operation that Seoul has halted work there. (AP Photo/Lee Jin-man)
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The U.S.-based 38 North website, which specializes in North Korea, said there has been activity at the country's nuclear site based on satellite imagery and on Wednesday said the possibility of a fifth nuclear test "could not be ruled out."

China, North Korea's most important economic and diplomatic backer, has been angered by Pyongyang's nuclear tests and rocket launches in the face of U.N. sanctions that China has also backed.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Lu Kang said the U.N. Security Council was clear on North Korean rocket launches.

"At present, the situation on the peninsula is complex and sensitive," he told reporters. "We hope all parties can strictly respect the decisions of the Security Council and avoid taking any steps that could further worsen tensions."

SEE MORE: North Korea can put nuclear warhead on mid-range missile: South

Chinese state media was more direct.

"The firing of a mid-range ballistic missile on Friday by the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), though failed, marks the latest in a string of saber-rattling that, if unchecked, will lead the country to nowhere," China's official Xinhua news agency said in an English language commentary.

"...Nuclear weapons will not make Pyongyang safer. On the contrary, its costly military endeavors will keep on suffocating its economy."

Friday is the anniversary of North Korean founding president Kim Il Sung's birthday which is widely celebrated. In 2012, it was marked by a long-range rocket launch attempt which also failed.

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The U.S. Defense Department said in a statement the launch at 0533 Korea time (2033 GMT Thursday) was detected and tracked by the U.S. Strategic Command which also assessed it had failed.

"We call again on North Korea to refrain from actions and rhetoric that further raise tensions in the region and focus instead on taking concrete steps toward fulfilling its international commitments and obligations," a U.S. State Department official said.

SEE ALSO: Alleged North Korea propaganda video portrays nuclear attack on US

It was likely a Musudan, South Korea's Yonhap news agency said, an intermediate-range ballistic missile with a design range of more than 3,000 km (1,800 miles) that can be fired from a road mobile launcher but which has never been flight-tested.

The United States, which has 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea, said on Thursday it was aware of reports that North Korea was preparing to test intermediate-range missiles and was closely monitoring the Korean peninsula.

"Timing wise, today's missile was a cannon salute on the Day of the Sun, leading up to the party congress, but now that it has failed, it is an embarrassment," said Chang Gwang-il, a retired South Korean army general.

15 facts you should know about Kim Jong-un:

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15 facts about Kim Jong Un
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North Korea's failed missile launch prompts 'saber-rattling' jibe from China media

1) Kim Jong Un was born on January 8 -- 1982, 1983, or 1984.

His parents were future North Korean dictator Kim Jong Il and his consort, Ko Young Hee. He had an older brother named Kim Jong Chul and would later have a younger sister named Kim Yo Jong.

(Photo: DPRK propaganda via http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Korea/NG14Dg02.html)

2) Jong Un -- here with his mother -- lived at home as a child.

During this period, North Korea was ruled by "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung. While Jong Il was the heir apparent, Jong Un's path to command was far less certain.

(DPRK propaganda via http://www.atimes.com/atimes/Korea/NG14Dg02.html)

3) Then it was off to Switzerland to attend boarding school.

Called "Pak Un" and described as the son of an employee of the North Korean embassy, Jong Un is thought to have attended an English-language international school in Gümligen near Bern.

4) Jong Un loved basketball and idolized Michael Jordan.

The young Korean reportedly had posters of Jordan all over his walls during his Swiss school days. Although Jong Un was overweight and only 5-6, he was a decent basketball player.

(Photo by Alexander Hassenstein/Bongarts/Getty Images)

5) After school in Switzerland, he returned home for military schooling.

Upon his return to North Korea, Jong Un attended Kim Il Sung Military University with his older brother. Some reports say they started to attend their father's military field inspections around 2007.

(Photo by Liu Xingzhe/ChinaFotoPress via Getty Images)

6) Jong Un has a theme song known as "Footsteps."

"Footsteps" looks and sounds like a propaganda song from the Soviet Union.

7) Many North Koreans see Jong Un as a youthful version of "Great Leader" Kim Il Sung.

Kim bears a clear resemblance to his grandfather, Kim Il Sung, in appearance, haircut, and mannerisms.

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

8) After his father died, Jong Un was quickly declared "Supreme Leader" of North Korea.

When Jong Il died of a heart attack on December 17, 2011, the young Jong Un inherited the world's fourth-largest military, a nuclear arsenal, and absolute control over North Korea.

(AP Photo/NHK)

9) Some originally believed that Jong Un's aunt and uncle were actually calling the shots.

Among Jong Un's most trusted advisers were his aunt Kim Kyong Hui and her husband, Jang Sung Taek, both 66. The couple was reportedly ordered by Jong Il to control the country's military and help the young leader consolidate his position while he gains more experience.

(AP Photo/Kyodo News)

10) But at the end of December 2013, Jong Un had his uncle and his uncle's family executed, apparently in a bid to stop a coup against his rule.

11) He's married to a former cheerleader and may have two kids.

North Korean media revealed in July that he was married to Ri Sol Ju -- a former cheerleader and singer -- but no one knows exactly when they were married, according to NBC News.

(AP Photo/Korean Central News Agency via Korea News Service, File)

12) Jong Un lived out a childhood fantasy when former Chicago Bulls star Dennis Rodman visited.

Everyone in the family is apparently a huge Chicago Bulls fans.

(Photo courtesy of VICE)

13) But recently, things haven't been going so well.

In 2013 he was reportedly the target of an assassination attempt. South Korean intelligence believes the young leader was targeted by "disgruntled people inside the North" after he demoted a four-star general, which resulted in a power struggle.

(Photo courtesy: DPRK)

14) Jong Un has continued to be belligerent with South Korea and the West throughout his rule in hopes of bolstering his authority.

North Korea has continued to test ballistic missiles and nuclear devices under Jong Un's rule, despite the threat of sanctions. In 2012, the country launched its first satellite into space. And since Jong Un has taken over, the country has continued to push ahead with its construction of ballistic and nuclear weapons.

(AP Photo/Ahn Young-joon)

15) Jong Un's belligerence reached a peak in 2016.

On January 5, North Korea conducted its fourth-ever nuclear test and its second under Jong Un. Pyongyang claims the test was a miniaturized hydrogen bomb.

(AP Photo/Wong Maye-E, File)

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The North is scheduled to hold its ruling party congress in early May, the first such meeting in 36 years.

The North could not completely ignore the sanctions, but considered it the right time to attempt a missile launch to send a message to the world "we don't surrender to sanctions," Chang said.

Some experts had said North Korea may choose to test-fire the Musudan as it tries to build an intercontinental ballistic missile designed to put the mainland United States within range.

North Korea, which regularly threatens to destroy South Korea and the United States, often fires missiles during periods of tension in the region or when it comes under pressure to curb its defiance and abandon its weapons programs.

The North and rich, democratic South are technically still at war since their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty.

(Additional reporting by James Pearson in Seoul and David Brunnstrom in Washington, Editing by Nick Macfie)

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