Japan urged residents to take shelter early Tuesday morning after North Korea fired a ballistic missile over the country without warning for the first time in five years, in a major and potentially dangerous escalation of the latest weapons tests by the Kim Jong Un regime.
The launch, which drew immediate backlash from Tokyo and Seoul, comes amid a wave of missile tests, with five launches in the past 10 days, and follows renewed military exercises between the US and its regional allies.
The medium-range missile was fired from Mupyong-ri near North Korea’s central border with China at around 7:23 a.m. local time, according to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS). It flew about 4,600 kilometers (2,858 miles) for 20 minutes at an estimated maximum height of 1,000 kilometers (621 miles) over Japan’s Tohoku region before falling into the Pacific Ocean, about 3,000 kilometers (1,864 miles) from the country’s coast, Japanese officials said.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida strongly condemned the launch, calling North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launches “outrageous” in comments to reporters at his official residence.
Tuesday’s launch is the country’s 23rd such missile test this year, including both ballistic and cruise missiles.
There were no reports of damage to aircraft or vessels near the missile range, according to Japanese authorities, but the undeclared missile triggered -one rare J-alert, a system designed to inform the public of emergencies and threats in Japan.
In such emergencies, alerts are issued via sirens, through local radios and to individual smartphone users. On Tuesday, alerts were sent out around 7:30 a.m. local time to people in Aomori prefecture, Hokkaido and Tokyo’s Izu and Ogasawara islands, according to Japanese officials.
A tweet posted by Japan’s prime minister’s office urged residents to take shelter in buildings and “not approach anything suspicious found and to contact the police or fire department immediately.”
Other governments were quick to decry the launch, with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol labeled it a “reckless” provocation and said North Korea will face a decisive response from the South Korean military and its allies.
The White House also “strongly” condemned the test, and National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson called it a “destabilizing” act that shows North Korea’s “blatant disregard for UN Security Council resolutions and international security norms.”
Kim Seung-kyum, Chief of South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS), and Paul LaCamera, US Forces Korea Commander in Chief, held a meeting after the launch and reaffirmed that the combined defense posture will be further strengthened against any threats and provocations from North Korea, the JCS said.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command also released a statement saying that U.S. commitments to the defense of Japan and South Korea “remain ironclad.”
Kim Dong-yub, a professor at South Korea’s Kyungnam University, said initial flight details indicated the missile fired Tuesday was likely a Hwasong-12, the same type of missile last fired in January, also from Mupyong- ride.
“This missile launch appears to be part of a series North Korea’s response to USS Ronald Reagan’s deployment in Busan. North Korea conducted several short-range ballistic missile launches, and this is North Korea’s way of showing its displeasure and demonstration of threat to the deployment of US strategic assets on the Korean Peninsula,” Kim said.
Tuesday’s launch could herald an intensification of provocations from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, experts told CNN.
“Pyongyang is still in the middle of a cycle of provocation and testing and is likely to wait until after China’s Communist Party Congress in mid-October to conduct an even more significant test,” said Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
“The Kim regime is developing weapons such as tactical nuclear warheads and submarine-launched ballistic missiles as part of a long-term strategy to outrun South Korea in an arms race and drive wedges among US allies.”
Four previous missile launches took place over the course of a week in late September and early October, around the same time that U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris made an official visit to Japan and South Korea, and as U.S., Japanese, and South Korean navies held joint exercises.
North Korea’s test also come as international attention remains firmly focused on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine – and which both Moscow and Beijing appear reluctant to side with the West to further criticize Pyongyang.
In May, Russia and China vetoed a U.S.-drafted U.N. Security Council resolution to strengthen sanctions against North Korea for its weapons test, in a vote the U.S. said was likely to fuel Pyongyang’s program to develop nuclear-armed missile systems.
Washington and the International Atomic Energy Agency have both warned this year that North Korea may be preparing for a nuclear test, which would be its first since 2017.
Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asian Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute, drew a link between the missile tests and a potential nuclear test.
“North Korea will continue to conduct missile tests until the current round of modernization is complete. I don’t think a nuclear (test) explosion is far behind,” he told CNN.