SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA (AP) – North Korea yesterday fired a ballistic missile over Japan for the first time in five years, forcing Japan to issue evacuation notices and suspend trains during the flight of the nuclear-capable weapon that could reach the United States (US) territory of Guam and possibly beyond.
The launch was the most provocative weapons demonstration by North Korea this year as it ramps up missile tests to build a nuclear arsenal that viably threatens US allies and the American homeland with the goal of wresting outside concessions, some experts said.
The missile’s estimated 4,500 kilometre flight was the longest by any North Korean missile, though the North has previously launched potentially longer-range weapons at high angles to avoid neighbouring countries.
The US strongly condemned North Korea’s “dangerous and reckless decision” to launch what it described as a “long-range ballistic missile” over Japan.
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol earlier said the missile had an intermediate range, while Japanese Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said it was believed to have an intermediate range or longer. Japanese authorities alerted residents in northeastern regions to evacuate to shelters, in the first “J-alert” since 2017 when North Korea fired an intermediate-range Hwasong-12 missile twice over Japan in a span of weeks during its previous torrid run of weapons tests.
Trains were suspended in the Hokkaido and Aomori regions until the government issued a notice that the North Korean missile appeared to have landed in the Pacific.
In Sapporo city on Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido, subways were also temporarily suspended, with stations packed with morning commuters.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters the latest firing “is a reckless act and I strongly condemn it”.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile was fired from the inland north in North Korea.