Early this morning the North Korea (DPRK) carried out a ballistic missile test that flew over the Japanese mainland and landed in the sea 1180 km east of the Cape of Erimo off the coast of Hokkaido in northern Japan according to Japanese and South Korean officials. This led to a sharp rise in tensions on the Korean peninsula.
The test according to experts involved the newly developed intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), the Hwasong-12. The provocative test was carried out while the US and South Korea were conducting yearly military exercises on the Korean peninsula which North Korea has severely warned against. This comes after Pyongyang had earlier this month threatened to fire missiles into the waters near the US territory of Guam in the Pacific after which US President Donald Trump and DPRK Supreme Leader Kim Jong Un exchanged fiery rhetoric with each other. Under Kim Jong Un the North has carried out dozens of ballistic missile test, the latest on Saturday, but firing missiles over the Japanese mainland is a rare occurrence.
Both the Japanese and South Korean government severely condemned the test and warned the North against further escalation. The Japanese Prime Minister called for an urgent meeting at the UN to increase pressure on North Korea and said the launch was a blatant violation of UN resolutions.
Previously the DPRK had launched what it called was a rocket carrying a communications satellite into space over Japan in 2009 but the US, Japan and South Korea labeled it a cover for testing a ballistic missile. Jeffery Lewis, head of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of Strategic Studies called today’s test “pretty unusual” and said that, “North Korea’s early space launches in 1998 and 2009 went over Japan, but that’s not the same thing as firing a missile.”
The Japanese government immediately went on high alert with the emergency J-Alert system broadcasting on radio and TV. Train services were temporarily suspended and warnings played over loudspeakers in Hokkaido. The economic fallout of this escalation in the global market led to the purchasing of safe-haven assets like gold, the Swiss franc and the Japanese yen, and selling stocks. Japan’s Nikkei 225 index plummeted almost one percent to a near four month low as well as South Korea’s KOSPI index. The Republic of Korea’s (ROK) finance ministry said it would observe global stocks and will take steps to balance the market again.
The ROK military said the missile was launched from the Sunan region near Pyongyang just before 6 AM and flew 2700 km and reached a height if around 550 km. US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson came around to make a peaceful approach to Pyongyang last week, applauding what he described as the restraint the North had portrayed recently in its missile program by not carrying out any tests since July. Experts say that by showcasing their military prowess the North Korean think that only then they can have meaningful dialogue. This logic however is not accepted by the international community.
The Japanese Self Defense Force (SDF) on its part did not attempt to shoot down the missile, which it had every right to do, and further escalate tensions. The missile disintegrated into three pieces before landing in the sea. The Pentagon confirmed the flight path of the missile but said it did not present a threat to the US homeland. The North Koreans for their part had once again asked the UN Security Council (UNSC) to convene to discuss the current US-ROK war games according to a letter released on Monday by the DPRK Ambassador to the UN, calling it a “grave threat” to the Korean peninsula and international peace and security. The request went unanswered previously too by the UNSC.