The United States condemned North Korea for its “dangerous and reckless” launch of a ballistic missile over Japan – the first in five years – and vowed to defend South Korea and Japan.
Japan urged residents to take shelter early on Tuesday morning because of the missile, which was described as a potentially dangerous escalation of its weapons tests.
The missile was fired without warning at 7.23am local time from Mupyong-ri near North Korea’s central border with China and flew over 4,600 kilometres for 20 minutes at an estimated altitude of 1,000km over Honshu, Japan’s main island, before falling into the Pacific Ocean, according to a report by CNN, which cited South Korean and Japanese officials.
It led to an alert “sent out via sirens, through community radio stations and to individual smartphone users” at about 7.30am to citizens in Aomori prefecture, Hokkaido and the Izu and Ogasawara islands to take cover, the report said, and a temporary suspension of train operations in the north of the country.
This was the fifth missile launched by Pyongyang in the last 10 days and the 23rd this year, and follows a visit to Seoul and Japan by US Vice President Kamala Harris, plus renewed drills by the US, Korean and Japanese navies.
“This action is destabilizing and shows the DPRK’s blatant disregard for United Nations Security Council resolutions and international safety norms,” White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in statement, referring to North Korea by the initials of its official name.
Watson said US National Security Adviser Jake Sullivan spoke with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts to discuss “appropriate and robust joint and international responses.”
Sullivan reinforced the “ironclad” US commitments to the defense of Japan and South Korea and said Washington would continue efforts to limit North Korea’s ability to advance its prohibited weapons programmes.
Analysts say the missiles are designed to drive a wedge between the US and its allies in Japan and South Korea.
Washington and the International Atomic Energy Association have warned that Pyongyang may be preparing for its first nuclear test in five years, which some expect will be conducted after Beijing conducts its Party Congress.
China Seen ‘Using North Korea’ as Leverage
Daniel Kritenbrink, the State Department‘s assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said China needed to do more to fight sanctions evasion by North Korea in its waters. He added that Beijing and Russia should work to shut down Pyongyang’s procurement networks.
“The failure of the PRC and Russia to fully and completely fulfill their obligations … has only, we fear, emboldened the DPRK in undermining the UN Security Council, the international rules-based order and global non-proliferation regime,” he said.
Kritenbrink said that persuading North Korea to denuclearize ought to be an area of cooperation with China, but that there were some in Beijing who want to use the issue as leverage in the broader strategic rivalry with Washington.
He reiterated that Washington remained open to dialogue with North Korea without preconditions and called Pyongyang to “commit to serious and sustained diplomacy, and refrain from further destabilizing activities.”
“Unfortunately… the only response we have seen thus far is an increase in the number of ballistic missile launches and other provocative actions,” he said. “This is not a productive path forward, neither for North Korea or for any of us.”
Kritenbrink reiterated a US assessment that a resumption of nuclear testing by North Korea for the first time since 2017 was probably just awaiting political approval. He said such a “dangerous” act would represent “a grave escalation that would seriously threaten regional and international stability and security.”
“It is in the international community’s best interest to ensure the DPRK knows that such an action will be met by unanimous condemnation, that the only path towards long-term peace and stability is through negotiations,” he said.
Kritenbrink said Washington would “respond resolutely” to the growing North Korean threat and “take all necessary measures, involving all elements of American national power” to defend treaty allies South Korea and Japan.
“I don’t think anyone should doubt our result in terms of pursuing sanctions and other authority to impose a cost on these actions,” he added.
Decades of US-led sanctions have not stemmed North Korea’s increasingly sophisticated missile and nuclear bomb programmes, and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has shown no interest in returning a failed path of diplomacy he pursued with US President Donald Trump.
- Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard
NOTE: The headline on this report was changed and additional details added on October 4, 2022.