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North Korea fires missile over Japan

SEOUL — Nuclear-armed North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan on Tuesday in a major escalation that triggered global alarm and a furious response from the Japanese government.

A visibly unsettled Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said it was an “unprecedented, serious and grave threat,” while the UN Security Council called an emergency meeting at Tokyo and Washington’s request.

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Sirens blared out and text messages were fired off across northern Japan warning people in the missile’s flight path to take cover.

Trains were delayed as passengers were urged to seek shelter inside stations.

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“All lines are experiencing disruption,” said one sign on Sapporo’s metro system. “Reason: Ballistic missile launch.”

Condemnation

Indonesia, one of the few nations to have decades of cordial relations with North Korea, condemned the missile launch.

The Philippines, this year’s chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), also expressed grave concern, urging North Korea to halt such provocative actions.

Indonesia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the missile test was inconsistent with North Korea’s international obligations.

It urged North Korea to abide by UN resolutions condemning its ballistic missile launches and nuclear weapons development.

“Stability on the Korean Peninsula is very important,” the ministry said.

Philippine Foreign Secretary Alan Peter Cayetano called on North Korea to halt “dangerous and provocative actions” and pursue dialogue.

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Cayetano said Asean and the Philippines as its chair this year remained committed to peaceful resolution of conflict but that “provocations such as this latest missile launch should stop to help us put in place an environment that would be conducive to dialogue.”

ICBM tests

The last time a North Korean rocket overflew Japan was in 2009, when Pyongyang said it was a satellite launch.

Washington, Seoul and Tokyo believed Pyongyang conducted a clandestine test of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

Pyongyang last month carried out two overt ICBM tests that appeared to bring much of the US mainland within reach for the first time and heightened strains in the region.

At the time, US President Donald Trump issued an apocalyptic warning of raining “fire and fury” on North Korea, while the latter threatened to fire a salvo of missiles toward the US territory of Guam.

South Korea on Monday said the latest missile was launched from Sunan, near Pyongyang, and flew around 2,700 kilometers at a maximum altitude of around 550 kilometers.

Guam lies about 3,500 km from North Korea—although the missile was fired in an easterly direction and not toward the US outpost, home to 160,000 people and host to major military facilities.

Abe said Tuesday’s overflight was an “outrageous act” that “greatly damages regional peace and security.”

In a 40-minute telephone call with Trump, Abe said, the two allies agreed to “further strengthen pressure against North Korea.”

‘Dead fish’

Any launch toward Guam would have to pass over Japan first and analysts said Tuesday’s overflight presented a major challenge to both Tokyo and Washington.

When North Korea carried out its ICBM tests last month—which leader Kim Jong-un described as a “gift” to “American bastards”—it fired them on lofted trajectories that avoided Japan.

Before 2009, the only time a North Korean missile traversed Japanese airspace was in 1998, in what Pyongyang also claimed was a space launch. The United States said it was a Taepodong-1 missile.

North Korea says it needs nuclear weapons to protect itself against the United States, and the firing comes during the annual Ulchi Freedom Guardian South Korean-US joint military exercise, which the North always condemns as rehearsals for invasion.

“I don’t understand how this caught anyone by surprise,” Jeffrey Lewis of the armscontrolwonk website said on Twitter.

“It’s a smart move for the DPRK,” he added, using the initials of North Korea’s official name. “But what’s Trump going to do? Start a nuclear war over some dead fish?”

After Pyongyang appeared to postpone the Guam scheme, Trump told a rally in Phoenix that Kim was “starting to respect us.”

As a result, Cha Du-hyeogn of the Asian Institute of Policy Studies in Seoul, told Agence France-Presse (AFP): “It looked like North Korea backed off from a game of chicken.

“But Pyongyang is showing that is not how it is,” Cha said. “That it is not a chicken, it has not backed off and that Washington is the one who is bluffing with no concrete plan.”

‘Horrible day’

Japan has in the past vowed to shoot down North Korean missiles or rockets that threaten to hit its territory.

But Tokyo made no attempt to do so on Tuesday—when the missile flew over the country for two minutes—with Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera saying generals believed it posed no risk to the country.

“Today is really quite a horrible day for Japan,” security commentator Ankit Panda said on Twitter following Tuesday’s overflight.

“If North Korea assesses the costs of overflying Japan to be anything but intolerable, we’ll see more of these kinds of tests,” Panda added. —Reports from AFP, AP, and Dona Z. Pazzibugan in Manila

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