(CNSNews.com) – The North Korean regime ratcheted up tensions with the U.S. and its neighbors with Tuesday’s firing of a ballistic missile that flew over Japan – just the third time in nearly two decades that Pyongyang has taken such a provocative step and a first for Kim Jong-un.
The incident drew angry reactions from Japan and South Korea, with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe calling it “an unprecedented, grave and serious threat” and South Korea’s military warning that the North risks “resolute” retaliation if it continues on its belligerent path.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s office said he ordered the military to make an “overwhelming show of force” as a message to the North, and South Korean warplanes dropped eight American ark 84 multipurpose bombs at a shooting range near the border.
Japan’s military said the unidentified projectile passed over Japanese territory shortly after 6 AM local time. It broke into three pieces and landed in the sea off the Hokkaido prefecture in the north of the archipelago.
Officials said residents in the missile’s path were warned via cellphone text messages to take cover as a precaution, although no attempts were made to shoot it down.
Earlier this month, the North Korean military’s Strategic Force threatened to fire four intermediate-range Hwasong-12 missiles over Japan, to land in waters near the U.S. territory of Guam. It presented the plan to Kim Jong-un, although he took no further action.
The trajectory for that earlier-threatened launch, however, would be very different to the one on Tuesday, where the rocket flew in a north-easterly direction from its point of origin north of Pyongyang. Missiles fired towards Guam would travel much further to the south, passing over southern Japan.
Japan’s defense minister did say that the missile fired on Tuesday appeared to be a Hwasong-12. The projectiles are fired from mobile launchers, making them harder to target.
A South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman told reporters North Korea appeared with the latest launch to be showing off its ability to target U.S. military installations in Japan and Guam.
Abe spoke by phone with President Trump and called for an urgent U.N. Security Council meeting to discuss the incident. North Korea’s ballistic missile launches violate multiple previous Security Council resolutions.
This year has brought an unprecedented number of North Korean missile launches – well over a dozen – but it’s only the third time the Stalinist regime has lobbed a projectile over Japan.
Even though a recently-tested intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) has a much longer range, it was fired in a steep upward trajectory, and flew in a high arc before splashing down in waters between the Korean peninsula and Japan..
Almost 20 years ago, Pyongyang alarmed the region when, without warning, it fired a two-stage Taepodong-I ballistic missile clear over Japan in 1998 before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. It claimed afterwards that the launch had been an attempt to put a satellite into space, but expert observers said it was a test of long-range ballistic missile technology.
The following year, agreed to a moratorium on medium- and long-range missile launches which last until 2006, when test-firing resumed.
Then in 2009, Japan’s airspace was once again breached when North Korea attempted another satellite launch. The three-stage Unha carrier rocket successfully dumped its first stage into the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan and continued flying over Japan, achieving a total of almost 2,000 miles before crashing into the Pacific.
Last week Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said North Korea had demonstrated a measure of restraint by not launching a missile for several weeks. But on Saturday the brief hiatus ended, when it fired three short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan.