North Korea on Tuesday fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan for
the first time in five years, prompting a rare warning by the Japanese government for
residents in two northern prefectures to seek shelter.
The launch represented a major escalation by North Korea, which has conducted a
flurry of missile tests in recent days as the United States held military drills in the
region with South Korea and Japan. By launching a missile over Japan and toward the
Pacific, North Korea heightened regional concerns over its growing nuclear
capabilities, and raised the stakes in stalled diplomatic talks with Washington.
The intermediate-range missile was fired from Mupyong-ri, near North Korea’s
central border with China, according to the South Korean military. It was launched at
7:22 a.m. and landed in the Pacific Ocean 22 minutes later, Japan’s chief cabinet
minister, Hirokazu Matsuno, said. It crashed about 1,864 miles — or 3,000 kilometers
— east of the archipelago, outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, which extends
200 nautical miles from its shores.
The test was seen as a direct challenge to South Korea’s effort to strengthen its
alliance with the United States and improve ties with Japan, a former colonial ruler of
Korea with longstanding historical disputes with Seoul. The missile flew about 2,800
miles, the longest distance ever traveled by a North Korean missile, officials in Tokyo
and Seoul said.
Although North Korea has developed and tested increasingly powerful ballistic
missiles in recent years, it has rarely fired them over Japan, an act considered
extremely provocative by both Tokyo and Washington. Instead, North Korea has
usually launched its missiles at a deliberately steep angle, with the projectile soaring
high into space before falling into waters west of Japan.
North Korea has only fired missiles over Japan twice before, both times in 2017.
Adrienne Watson, a spokeswoman for the White House’s National Security Council,
called the launch a “dangerous and reckless decision.” Unlike the South Korean
government, she described the North Korean weapon as “a long-range ballistic
missile.” National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with his Japanese and South
Korean counterparts on Tuesday to discuss “robust joint and international
responses” and reinforced Washington’s “ironclad commitments” to the defense of
its allies, Ms. Watson said.
North Korea has insisted that it was building a nuclear arsenal for self-defense,
accusing the United States and its allies of plotting to invade the isolated country.
In a speech to Parliament last month, Kim Jong-un, the North’s leader, said his
country would never give up its nuclear weapons “as long as the United States and its
vassal forces refuse to stop their anti-D.P.R.K. maneuverings.” (D.P.R.K. stands for the
Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.)
President Yoon Suk Yeol of South Korea met with Japanese Prime Minister Fumio
Kishida in New York last month on the sidelines of the United Nations General
Assembly. The two leaders discussed security cooperation in the face of North Korea’s
growing nuclear and missile threat. In recent weeks, the United States, Japan and
South Korea have conducted their first trilateral anti-submarine and missile-tracking
exercises since 2017.
North Korea has fired 23 weapons tests this year that involved a total of 43 ballistic
and cruise missiles — including four tests last week — but the launch on Tuesday was
the first time since 2017 that Japan had issued a warning for residents to take shelter.