According to Japanese news agency NHK World, North Korea launched a long-range ballistic missile over the island of Hokkaido early Tuesday morning.
The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that the missile was fired at 5:57 am local time from the Sunan area near Pyongyang. It then flew more than 1,600 miles at an altitude of 340 miles toward the northern Tohoku region of Japan. The United States Pacific Command estimated that the missile broke into three pieces and descended into the sea around 733 miles from the Japanese coast just over half an hour later.
The launch immediately triggered Japan’s improved missile response system, which sent red alerts to cellphones and public loudspeakers, informing citizens of the launch and instructing them to take cover in “a sturdy building or basement”. However, Japan did not attempt to shoot down the missile at any point.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe claimed that the launch was a grave and unprecedented threat to the country. After calling an emergency national security council meeting in Tokyo, Mr. Abe said that “launching a missile and flying it over our country was a reckless act, and it represents a serious threat without precedent to Japan.”
The South Korean administration at Cheong Wa Dae also arranged an emergency national security council meeting in Seoul to assess the provocation. South Korean President Moon Jae-in did not attend the meeting, according to Yonhap News Agency. However, his chief security adviser Chung Eui-yong convened the session on his behalf.
In the US, the Pentagon confirmed that North Korea had launched a missile over Japanese territory into the Pacific, but that it did not pose a direct threat to the United States.
Pentagon spokesman Army Colonel Rob Manning announced, “We are still in the process of assessing today’s launch. North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America.”
Pyongyang has conducted several long-range ballistic weapons tests over the past few months. However, launching missiles directly over Japan is unusual. The two previous times the hermit kingdom flew rockets into Japanese territory in 1998 and 2009, it claimed that they were satellite launches and not military attacks.
Just three days ago, North Korea tested three short-range missiles in the East China Sea, but today’s launch is the most brazen since Kim Jong-un took power in 2016. It will no doubt escalate tensions between Pyongyang and its neighbors, with Yonhap describing it as “another slap in the face to President Moon and President Donald Trump.”
The United States and its Pacific allies have repeatedly sought dialog with North Korea in spite of its provocative missile tests. However, this month President Trump warned Kim Jong-un that he would “truly regret” attacking the United States, Japan or South Korea.
Just two weeks ago, Pyongyang threatened to launch long-range ballistic missiles at the US Pacific island territory of Guam, prompting the US president to threaten Kim with “fire and fury”. There have also been reports that Pyongyang is preparing to implement a sixth nuclear test in September.
Japan and the United States have convened an emergency UN Security Council meeting to discuss their response to today’s launch.