North Korea fires ballistic missile over Japan into Pacific

Pyongyang’s fifth test in 10 days comes after South Korea and the United States hold military drills.

North Korea has fired a ballistic missile over Japan, the fifth launch in 10 days, amid expectations that it is gearing up to test its first nuclear weapon in five years.

The missile, detected by the Japanese coast guard and South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, prompted warning sirens in northern Japan with residents advised to take shelter. Train services in the north-eastern Hokkaido and Aomori regions were suspended temporarily.

It was the first North Korea missile to fly over or past Japan since 2017 and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida condemned what he called a “barbaric” act. South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol, meanwhile, warned of a “resolute” response following the launch, Yonhap news agency reported.

Both leaders convened meetings of their respective national security councils in response to the launch.

Japan’s public broadcaster NHK said the missile flew for some 4,000 km (2,485 miles) reaching an altitude of 1,000 km (621 miles) before falling into the Pacific Ocean after about 22 minutes in the air.

It was launched from the north near the border with China.

South Korea’s military said it had “detected one suspected medium-range ballistic missile that was launched from Mupyong-ri area of Jagang Province at around 7:23 am (22:23 GMT) today and passed over Japan in the eastern direction.”

Pyongyang has conducted a series of recent launches around military drills held by the United States and South Korea, which it considers a rehearsal for invasion. The US and South Korea, which staged its own show of advanced weaponry on Saturday to mark its Armed Forces Day, say the exercises are defensive in nature.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said that firing a weapon over Japan represented a “significant escalation” of recent provocations.

“Diplomacy isn’t dead, but talks aren’t about to resume either,” Easley said in comments by email. “Pyongyang is still in the middle of a provocation and testing cycle and is likely waiting until after China’s mid-October Communist Party Congress to conduct an even more significant test.”

While the most recent tests were of short-range missiles, Pyongyang has conducted a record number of weapons tests this year including of what it said was an ICBM, which is banned under UN sanctions. North

Some analysts say North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, who is committed to modernising the military, aims to use his enlarged arsenal to pressure Washington to accept his country as a nuclear state.

The top US diplomat for East Asia, who was speaking at an online event hosted by the Institute for Korean-American Studies said the latest launch was “unfortunate” but a path to dialogue remained open.

“(We) urge the DPRK to take the path of dialogue, commit to serious and sustained diplomacy, and refrain from further destabilizing activities,” said Daniel Kritenbrink, the State Department’s assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs.

Officials in South Korea have suggested North Korea might carry out a nuclear test after the end of the Congress in China and before the US holds its mid-term elections in November. Pyongyang last carried out a nuclear test in September 2017.

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