(Al Jazeera Media Network) North Korea launched a long-range ballistic missile into the sea off Japan’s west coast after warning of a strong response to upcoming military drills by South Korea and the United States.
Japanese authorities said the missile plunged into waters today (Saturday) inside Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), more than an hour after it was launched, suggesting the weapon was one of Pyongyang’s largest missiles.
“North Korea fires an unidentified ballistic missile into (the) East Sea,” South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, referring to the body of water also known as the Sea of Japan.
Denouncing the launch as a “clear breach of UN Security Council resolutions,” the joint chiefs of staff said the missile had flown about 900 km.
Japanese government spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters that North Korea fired an “ICBM-class ballistic missile” to the east, referring to long-range intercontinental ballistic missiles that Pyongyang has increasingly tested.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said the missile appeared to have landed “within Japan’s EEZ, west of Hokkaido.”
“It is an escalating provocation against the international community as a whole, and naturally we severely lodged a protest against it,” he added.
Japanese officials said there was no immediate report of damage to ships or aircraft.
South Korean officials, meanwhile, said the “presumed long-range missile” was launched from the Sunan area near Pyongyang. Sunan is the site of the Pyongyang International Airport, where North Korea has conducted most of its recent ICBM tests.
Following today’s launch, South Korea’s National Security Council convened a meeting and agreed to increase co-operation on security with Washington and Japan.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said in a statement that U.S. commitments to the defence of Japan and South Korea “remain ironclad.”
“While we have assessed that this event does not pose an immediate threat to U.S. personnel, or territory, or to our allies, we will continue to monitor the situation,” the statement added.
The White House strongly condemned the launch and said it would take all necessary measures to protect the US homeland and regional allies.
The launch “needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region,” Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the White House National Security Council, said in a statement.
The launch came a day after North Korea’s foreign ministry threatened to take “unprecedentedly” strong action against South Korea after it announced planned military exercises.
The North Korean statement on Friday accused Washington and Seoul of planning more than 20 rounds of military drills this year, including large-scale field exercises, and described its rivals as “the arch-criminals deliberately disrupting regional peace and stability.”
The U.S. tabletop exercise, scheduled for Wednesday, would set up possible scenarios in which North Korea uses nuclear weapons and would explore how to cope with them militarily and formulate crisis management plans, South Korea’s defence ministry has said.
“With a focus on North Korea’s nuclear threats, both sides will have in-depth discussions on various measures to strengthen U.S. extended deterrence, including information sharing and consultation procedures,” the ministry said.