TOKYO — US President Donald Trump has warned that “all options are on the table” after North Korea launched a missile over Japan early Tuesday.
The missile was fired just before 6 a.m. in Japan, where the launch set off warnings in the northern part of the country urging people to seek shelter.
“The world has received North Korea’s latest message loud and clear,” Trump said in a statement. “This regime has signaled its contempt for its neighbors, for all members of the United Nations, and for minimum standards of acceptable international behavior.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe also denounced Tuesday’s launch, saying it represented a “most serious and grave” threat.
The unidentified missile flew over Erimomisaki, on the northern island of Hokkaido, and broke into three pieces before falling into the Pacific Ocean, about 1,180 kilometers (733 miles) off the Japanese coast.
The missile was in flight for about 15 minutes, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said at an emergency press conference. “There is no immediate report of the fallen objects and no damage to the ships and aircraft,” he added.
Tuesday’s launch is the first time North Korea has successfully fired a ballistic missile over Japan. Various stages of launch vehicles have overflown Japan during Pyongang’s attempts to launch satellites into space in 1998, 2009, 2012 and 2016.
This is the fourth missile North Korea has fired in four days — Pyongyang tested three short-range ballistic missiles, one of which failed, from Kangwon province that landed in water off the Korean Peninsula.
This time, the missile was launched near the capital of Pyongyang, a move CNN’s Will Ripley, who is reporting from Pyongyang, say is rare and “highly provocative.”
The test shows the mobility of North Korea’s arsenal, and may have been intended to deliver a message that pre-emptive US strikes on missile launch facilities could land uncomfortably close to civilians, Ripley said.
North Korea has launched missiles from various positions across the country in recent months, and it possesses trucks that have been converted into transporter-erector-launchers (TELs) — vehicles for quickly deploying and launching missiles — including some from China.
It also is developing missiles that use solid fuel, which are much quicker to deploy than their liquid-fueled counterparts.
Ripley said that as of about 6 p.m. Pyongyang time, the news had not been broadcast to people inside North Korea.
Abe speaks to Trump
Soon after the launch, Abe called it a “unprecedented serious and grave threat to Japan” that “significantly undermines the peace and security of the region.”
The Japanese leader said he spoke with US President Donald Trump for 40 minutes.
“Japan and the US completely agreed that an emergency meeting at the UN Security Council should be held immediately and increase the pressure towards North Korea.”
Trump reiterated that the United States “stands with Japan 100%,” Abe said.
While the missile flew over Japanese territory, one analyst said it wasn’t necessarily intended as a threat to Japan.
“If they’re going to launch to a distance they’ve got to go over somebody. It looks to me like a risk reduction measure, they want to reduce the populated areas they fly over just in case anything goes wrong,” said Joshua Pollack, a senior research associate at the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies.
South Korea response
South Korea responded by conducting a bombing drill at 9:30 a.m. local time to test its “capability to destroy the North Korean leadership” in cases of emergency, an official with the country’s Defense Ministry told CNN.
Yoon Young-chan, the head of South Korea’s Presidential Public Affairs Office, told reporters that four F-15K fighter jets dropped eight one-ton MK-84 bombs at a shooting range.
The operation was meant “to showcase a strong punishment capability against the North,” he said.
“We are fully ready to counter any threat from North Korea and will make unwavering efforts to protect the lives of our people and the security of our nation,” South Korean Foreign Ministry spokesman Cho June-hyuck said.
Alerts in Hokkaido
Analysts believe Tuesday’s launch shows a new level of confidence from the North Koreans.
“It is a big deal that they overflew Japan, which they have carefully avoided doing for a number of years, even though it forced them to test missiles on highly lofted trajectories, and forced them to launch their satellites to the south, which is less efficient than launching to the east (due to the Earth’s rotational motion),” said David Wright, co-director of the Global Security Program at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
Pyongyang’s missile tests are banned under United Nations Security Council resolutions, but that hasn’t stopped North Korean leader Kim Jong Un from attempting to rapidly develop his country’s nuclear and missile programs.
This time, the missile was launched near the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, which is rare.
CNN’s Will Ripley, who is on the ground in Pyongyang, said the news had not been broadcast to people inside North Korea as of 9:45 a.m. local time.
Minutes after the missile was launched, residents in northern Japan received a text message urging them to seek shelter in a strong structure or a basement.
“We were awoken by sirens and messages from the government telling us to take cover,” one local resident told CNN.
China, North Korea’s only real ally and economic patron, called for restraint from relevant parties.
“China urges the relevant parties not to take actions that would provoke one another and escalate tensions in the region,” Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said.
Japan was quick to condemn the launch as an unprecedented provocation.
“We will make a firm response,” said Japanese Minister of Foreign Affairs Taro Kono. “The United States made clear both in written and spoken statements that President Trump had instructed to put all options on the table regarding North Korea, and I highly value that stance.”
US President Donald Trump’s administration has been pursuing what it calls a strategy of “peaceful pressure” to rein in North Korea’s weapons programs.
The goal is to put enough diplomatic and economic pressure on Pyongyang in order to push them to the negotiating table.
Last week, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Trump hinted that the strategy appeared to be working.
Trump mused at a rally in Phoenix that Kim might now respect the United States. At a State Department briefing Wednesday in Washington, Tillerson said the brief respite in the missile launches may have been an example of North Korea demonstrating restraint.
“If Trump and Tillerson believed North Korea backed down, they were sorely mistaken,” said Adam Mount, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Center for American Progress.
“They’re not going to volunteer to do this (give up their weapons). Ever,” he said. “It’s a matter of bargaining. And North Korea has signaled over and over again that the price is really high.”
Analysts say North Korea believes developing a nuclear weapon that can fit atop a missile powerful enough to reach the United States is the only way Pyongyang can deter any US-led efforts at regime change.
“They cross line after line in an effort to say this is the new reality and you should accept it and go easy on us,” Mount said. “I think that’s a pretty unambiguous signal that they’re no longer going to be restrained by the United States.”
The launch was likely a signal to Japan, analysts say, as it comes the day after the Northern Viper military drills ended between the United States and Japan on Hokkaido — part of a North Korea strategy to drive a wedge between the US and its two main allies in the region — Japan and South Korea.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Suga told reporters this launch “could endanger peace and security in the Asia-Pacific region. It is also very dangerous and problematic in terms of the traffic safety of planes and ships.”
The United States is currently participating in its annual 10-day Ulchi Freedom Guardian military exercises with South Korea, which began on August 21.
Those drills are more logistical and defensive in nature — though Pyongyang sees them as provocative — whereas the Northern Viper drills could be considered more operational, Mount said.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry condemned the North Korean launch as “yet another provocation despite grave messages of warning,” in a statement Tuesday.
“The North Korean regime needs to realize that denuclearization is the only true path to securing its security and economic development and needs to come to the path for nuclearization dialogue instead of conducting its reckless provocation,” the statement said.