By HYUNG-JIN KIM, KIM TONG-HYUNG and MARI YAMAGUCHI
SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — North Korea on Tuesday fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan, its neighbors said, escalating tests of weapons designed to strike key targets in regional U.S. allies.
It is the most significant missile test by North Korea since January, when it fired the Hwasong-12 intermediate-range missile capable of reaching the U.S. territory of Guam. It is also the first time that a North Korea missile has flown over Japan since 2017.
The Japanese prime minister’s office said at least one missile fired from North Korea flew over Japan and was believed to have landed into the Pacific Ocean.
Japanese authorities issued a “J-alert” to residents in northeaster regions to evacuate to buildings nearby, the first such alert since 2017. Trains were temporarily suspended in Japan’s Hokkaido and Aomori regions before their operations were resumed after a government notice that the North Korean missile appeared to have landed into the Pacific.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters that “the firing, which followed a recent series of launches by North Korea, is a reckless act and I strongly condemn it.” He said he will a National Security Council to discuss the situation.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said there have been no immediate reports of damage reported after the North’s missile launch. He said the missile landed in waters outside the country’s exclusive economic zone after a 22-minute flight.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it also detected the launch of what it called a ballistic missile that was fired from the North’s northern inland area. It said the South Korean military bolsters its surveillance posture and maintains readiness in close coordination with the United States.
South Korea President Yoon Suk Yeol said North Korea launched an intermediate-range missile whose range is 4,000 kilometers (2,485 miles). It is a range that places Guam within striking distance.
Yoon said he called a National Security Council meeting to discuss the launch and that the North’s “reckless nuclear provocations” would meet the stern response of the South and the broader international community.
The launch is the fifth round of weapons tests by North Korean in the past 10 days in what was seen as an apparent response to bilateral military drills between South Korea and the United States and the allies’ other training involving Japan last week. North Korea views such drills as an invasion rehearsal,
The missiles fired during the past four rounds of launches were short-range and fell in the waters between the Korean Peninsula and Japan. Those missiles are capable of hitting targets in South Korea.
North Korea has test-fired about 40 missiles over about 20 different launch events this year as its leader Kim Jong Un vows to expand his nuclear arsenal and refuses to return to nuclear diplomacy with the United States.
Some experts say Kim eventually would try to use his enlarged arsenal to pressure Washington to accept his country as a nuclear state, a recognition that he thinks is necessary to win the lifting of international sanctions and other concessions.