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North Korea fires missile over Japan, raising tensions

LiveMint logoLiveMint 29-08-2017 Lily Nonomiya

Tokyo: North Korea fired an unidentified ballistic missile over Japan on Tuesday, reigniting tensions after a war of words earlier this month between Pyongyang and US President Donald Trump.

The missile landed about 1,200 kilometers (745 miles) off Hokkaido in the Pacific Ocean, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters, adding there were no reports of damage. Japan’s government said it didn’t try to shoot it down.

“A missile passing over Japan is an unprecedented, grave and serious threat,” Prime minister Shinzo Abe told reporters in Tokyo. Japan has asked the United Nations Security Council to hold an emergency meeting.

The North Korean missile is the first projectile to fly over Japanese airspace since the regime launched a rocket over Okinawa in 2016. Suga said Japan strongly backed the US view that all options were on the table in dealing with North Korea.

The Pentagon confirmed the missile flew over Japan, and said it didn’t pose a threat to North America. It was launched from near Pyongyang, travelled 2,700 kilometers in an easterly direction and reached an altitude of 550 kilometers, South Korea’s military said.

The yen pared earlier gains against the US dollar to be 0.5% higher as of 9:16 am in Tokyo. Japan’s Nikkei 225 Stock Average dropped 0.8% in early trade, while South Korea’s Kospi fell 0.6%. Still, investors in South Korea now have a “high tolerance” to North Korea’s provocations, according to Samsung Securities chief strategist You Seung-Min.

The launch comes after North Korea protested annual military drills this month led by the US and South Korea. Kim Jong Un’s regime fired three short-range missiles on Saturday.

North Korea has shown recent advancements in its technology by testing intercontinental ballistic missiles that achieved altitudes of thousands of kilometers, reflecting progress toward being able to reach the continental US with a nuclear warhead. That has happened despite further international sanctions aimed at squeezing Kim’s economy.

Pyongyang had threatened earlier this month to fire a missile over Japan toward the US territory of Guam, with Trump warning he’d retaliate with “fire and fury.” Trump has also said military force is an option to prevent Kim from gaining an ICBM that could deliver a nuclear weapon to the US.

“They flew the missile over Japan because they felt the need to test a missile over a longer range,” said Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu. “By firing it into the North Pacific, it makes it harder to recover the pieces and warheads than if they flew it toward Guam.”

“They are making the point that they are not afraid to fire a missile over Japan,” Cossa said by phone. “But the main point is that they are testing missiles over a flatter range.”

There was no immediate reaction from the White House to the latest missile. Tensions had appeared to cool in recent weeks, with secretary of state Rex Tillerson saying on Sunday the US wanted dialogue with North Korea, and South Korea also urging talks.

North Korea has said it won’t place its nuclear program on the negotiating table unless the US drops its “hostile” policies.

The latest launch also raises fresh questions for neighbour Japan—a key US ally—even if the missile was not aimed at sending Abe a message.

Foreign minister Taro Kono told reporters that North Korea’s launch of a missile to the east, rather than south towards Guam, showed Pyongyang “flinched” in the face of US responses to its threats against its territory in the Pacific Ocean.

An alert sent to mobile phones from the Japanese government read: “Missile launched, missile launched, missile appears to have been launched from North Korea. Please find a safe place within a solid building or underground.” It listed the prefectures to which the warning applied. Meanwhile TV stations displayed a message with a solid black background covering much of the screen warning about the missile launch.

“It is a big deal that they flew over Japan, which they have carefully avoided doing for a number of years, even though it forced them to test missiles on highly lofted trajectories, and forced them to launch their satellites to the south,” said David Wright, a co-director of the Union of Concerned Scientists. “This will make it more difficult for the US to get Japanese support for diplomacy, unfortunately, at exactly the time when the situation is heating up.” Bloomberg

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