North Korea has launched a ballistic missile that overflyed Japan, Tokyo says
North Korea on Tuesday fired a medium-range ballistic missile over Japan for the first time in five years, forcing Japan to issue evacuation notices and suspend trains as the North escalates weapons tests designed to hit regional US allies.
It was North Korea’s most significant missile test since January, when it fired a Hwasong-12 medium-range missile capable of reaching the US territory of Guam. Japan and South Korea both called security meetings to discuss the launch.
The Japanese prime minister’s office said at least one missile launched by North Korea flew over Japan and is believed to have landed in the Pacific Ocean.
Japanese authorities warned residents in northeastern regions to evacuate to emergency shelters in the first “J-Alert” alert since 2017, when North Korea fired a Hwasong-12 missile over Japan in its previous provocative weapons tests.
Trains were suspended in the Hokkaido and Aomori regions until the government issued a later notice that the North Korean missile appeared to have landed in the Pacific.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that “the shooting, which followed a recent spate of launches by North Korea, is a reckless act that I strongly condemn.” He said he would convene the National Security Council to discuss the situation.
Japan’s chief cabinet officer Hirokazu Matsuno said no damage was immediately reported from the missile, which flew 22 minutes and landed in waters outside the country’s exclusive economic zone.
South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said they determined the missile was launched from northern North Korea. It said the South Korean military had increased its surveillance posture and maintained its readiness in close coordination with the United States.
South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol said the missile’s range is 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles), putting Guam within striking distance.
Yoon said he had called a National Security Council meeting to discuss the launch and that the North’s “reckless nuclear provocations” would meet with the harsh response of the South and the broader international community.
The launch marks North Korea’s fifth round of weapons tests in the past 10 days, in what was seen as an apparent response to bilateral military exercises between South Korea and the United States and other training among allies, including Japan, last week.
The missiles fired during the last four launch rounds were short-range and fell in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. These missiles can hit targets in South Korea.
North Korea has test fired about 40 missiles in about 20 different launch events this year as its leader Kim Jong Un vows to expand his nuclear arsenal and refuses to return to nuclear diplomacy with the United States.
Some pundits say Kim would eventually seek to use his expanded arsenal to pressure Washington into accepting his country as a nuclear state, recognition he believes is necessary to secure the lifting of international sanctions and other concessions.