North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile over northern Japan for the first time in five years, prompting the government to urge people to avoid falling debris, in an apparent escalation of recent weapons tests by the Kim Jong-un regime.
The Japanese government activated its J-Alert system on Tuesday morning for residents of the northernmost main island of Hokkaido and the country’s northeastern Aomori prefecture. Railway traffic is temporarily suspended in the region.
“It appears that North Korea has launched a missile.” Please evacuate to buildings or underground,” the warning said.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called North Korea’s actions “outrageous” and said the government would continue to collect and analyze information. Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said Japan would examine all options, including the possibility of a counterattack, as it seeks to strengthen its defenses in the face of repeated missile launches from North Korea.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol warned of a “decisive” response after the launch, Yonhap news agency reported. Yun said the missile flew about 4,000 km, Yonhap added. That range puts the US Pacific territory of Guam within striking distance.
South Korea’s Unification Ministry, which oversees cross-border issues, said North Korea was “not responding” to the inter-Korean hotline. Jun promised a strong response from South Korea and the international community to the North’s “reckless nuclear provocations,” while South Korea’s National Security Council said Pyongyang’s provocations “will only strengthen security cooperation with the US, South Korea’s main ally.”
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) said the missile appeared to be an intermediate-range ballistic missile launched from North Korea’s Jagang province.
It was the first time North Korea had fired a missile over Japanese territory since 2017. TV Asahi, citing an unnamed government source, said the missile landed in the sea 3,000 km (1,860 miles) east of Japan at 7:44 a.m. local time after a 22-minute flight.
“North Korea’s series of actions, including its repeated ballistic missile launches, threaten the peace and security of Japan, the region and the international community, and pose a serious challenge to the entire international community, including Japan,” Japanese government spokesman Hirokazu said. Matsuno, he said at a short press conference.
The US State Department said the “reckless and dangerous launch” posed an “unacceptable threat to the Japanese public”.
Kyodo reported that Japanese defense ministry sources said the missile flew east over the Sea of Japan – known in Korea as the East Sea – before flying over Japanese territory. There were no reports of injuries or damage to ships or aircraft. It was the seventh time North Korea had launched a missile over Japan, it added.
The Japanese government issued a swift rebuke, describing the launch as a “threat to regional security.”
The latest launch is the fifth in 10 days, as the North ramps up its response to the recent resumption of large-scale military exercises by US and South Korean forces. Allies insist the drills are purely defensive, but Pyongyang denounces them as a rehearsal for an invasion.
Tuesday’s test also comes days after US Vice President Kamala Harris visited the heavily armed border that separates the two Koreas.
Later in the day, South Korean and US fighter jets conducted a “precision bombing exercise” in response, Seoul’s military said, with South Korean F-15Ks dropping munitions for a direct attack on a target in the Yellow Sea.
In September 2017, millions of residents in a dozen Japanese prefectures were warned to shelter in buildings or underground in chilling reminders that the country is within striking distance of North Korean missiles.
A second alert confirmed that the missile, believed to be an intermediate-range Hwasong-12, passed without incident and landed in the Pacific 2,000 km to the east.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Evha University in Seoul, said a flurry of tests in the North in recent days could be a precursor to the launch of a larger missile.
“So far, North Korea’s short-range missile tests have suffered diminishing returns in terms of technical progress, domestic political value and international signaling.” “Diplomacy is not dead, but the talks will not continue,” Easley said.
“Pyongyang is still in the middle of a cycle of provocations and testing and is likely waiting until after the Chinese Communist Party congress in mid-October to conduct a more significant military test.”
He added that the Kim regime is “developing weapons such as tactical nuclear warheads and submarine-launched ballistic missiles as part of a long-term strategy to overtake South Korea in the arms race and drive wedges among US allies.”
Firing over or next to Japan allows North Korean scientists to test missiles under more realistic conditions, said Ankit Panda of the US Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
“Compared to a conventional high-elevation trajectory, this allows them to subject the long-range vehicle to thermal loads and atmospheric re-entry stresses that are more representative of the conditions they would endure in real-world use,” he said.
“Politically, it’s complicated: the missile generally flies outside the atmosphere when it’s over Japan, but it’s obviously unsettling for the Japanese public to receive warnings about the possible arrival of a North Korean missile.”