North Korea fired a ballistic missile at Japan for the first time in five years on Tuesday, prompting Tokyo to activate its missile warning system and issue a rare warning for people to take shelter.
The latest launch, which the United States called “reckless and dangerous,” comes in a record year of sanctions-violating weapons tests by North Korea, which recently revised its laws to declare itself an “irreversible” nuclear power.
The last time Pyongyang fired a missile at Japan was in 2017, at the height of a period of “fire and fury” when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un exchanged insults with US President Donald Trump.
South Korea said the intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) flew some 4,500 kilometers (2,800 miles), possibly a new distance record for North Korea’s tests, which are usually conducted on an elevated trajectory to avoid flying over targets. neighbor countries.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol called the launch a “provocation” that violated UN rules and promised a “severe response” in a statement issued by his office.
Later Tuesday, South Korean and US warplanes carried out a “precision bombing drill” in response, Seoul’s military said, with South Korean F-15Ks dropping joint direct attack munitions (JDAM) at a target in the Yellow Sea.
The drills were aimed at demonstrating the “capabilities of allies to perform a precision strike at the source of provocations,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida described Pyongyang’s latest test as “an act of violence”, while European Union President Charles Michel called it “an unjustified aggression”.
The US State Department said the “reckless and dangerous launch” posed “an unacceptable threat to the Japanese public.”
Japanese Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada said the missile could have been a Hwasong-12.
Pyongyang used Hwasong-12 the last two times it fired missiles at Japan, in August and September 2017, Chad O’Carroll of the specialized site NK News tweeted.
Japan activated its missile warning system and urged people in two northern regions of the country to take shelter early Tuesday.
– Nuclear message –
Tuesday’s test is Pyongyang’s fifth missile launch in 10 days and sends a clear message to the United States, Park Won-gon, professor of North Korea studies at Ewha University, told AFP.
The missiles “put South Korea, Japan, and Guam within range,” and show that Pyongyang could attack US bases with nuclear weapons if war breaks out on the Korean peninsula, he said.
“As these are missiles that can carry nuclear warheads, the launch also has the political goal of once again declaring North Korea a de facto nuclear power and showing that its complete denuclearization is impossible,” Park added.
Seoul, Tokyo, and Washington have been stepping up joint military exercises to counter growing threats from Pyongyang, staging the first trilateral anti-submarine exercises in five years on Friday.
That came just days after the US and South Korean navies held large-scale exercises.
Such exercises infuriate North Korea, which sees them as rehearsals for an invasion.
US Vice President Kamala Harris visited Seoul last week and toured the heavily fortified Demilitarized Zone that bisects the Korean Peninsula on a trip to underscore her country’s “iron-strong” commitment to South Korea’s defense.
About 28,500 US troops are stationed in South Korea to help protect it from the North.
– Significant escalation –
Firing a missile over Japan represented a “significant escalation” by North Korea, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.
“Pyongyang is still in the midst of a cycle of provocation and test,” he added.
South Korean and US officials have been warning for months that Kim is preparing to conduct another nuclear test, saying last week this could happen soon after Pyongyang’s key ally China holds a Communist Party congress on Oct. 16. .
Pyongyang has tested nuclear weapons six times since 2006, most recently in 2017.
“North Korea always starts with a low-level provocation and gradually raises the level to attract the attention of the world’s media,” said Go Myong-Hyun, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies.
“Their final provocation will probably be a nuclear test,” he said, adding that North Korea had taken the unusual and “very aggressive” step of flying over Japan to attract more attention.
“By launching the missile over Japan, they are showing that their nuclear threat is not just aimed at South Korea.