North Korea Fires Another Missile Over Japan

Sep 14, 2017
Originally published on September 15, 2017 7:50 am

Updated at 9:50 p.m. ET Thursday

Japanese and South Korean officials have confirmed another missile test by North Korea Friday morning local time. This is the 15th North Korean missile test this year and the first to come after Pyongyang tested its most powerful nuclear bomb yet.

It comes just days after the United Nations Security Council again passed sanctions on Pyongyang. Over the past week, North Korea had been warning about "retaliation" for these sanctions in its state media.

The Japanese chief Cabinet secretary, Yoshihide Suga, says the missile reached an altitude of 770 kilometers (about 500 miles), crossed over the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido and fell into the ocean 2,000 kilometers (about 1,200 miles) east of Cape Erimo, according to Reuters.

U.S. Pacific Command says the missile didn't posed a threat to North America or Guam.

North Korea's most recent missile launch — on Aug. 29 — was the first to fly over Japan in several years. That one, like this one, triggered the J-Alert Japanese civil defense system to break into television and radio broadcasts and send messages across mobile phones in northern Japanese prefectures saying, "Missile alert, missile alert ... please take shelter underground or in a sturdy building."

Suga, who is the Japanese government's top spokesman, condemned the test and said no debris had fallen. "The government will cooperate closely with the United States, South Korea and other relevant countries to respond to this situation ... and do its best to confirm and ensure its safety of the people of Japan," Suga said.

South Korea's military says the unidentified missile was launched from Sunan, the site of the North Korean capital's airport. The Associated Press reports that the South Korean Defense Ministry announced a live-fire ballistic missile drill in response to the missile launch.

The White House press secretary says the president has been briefed on the latest launch.

Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, "These continued provocations only deepen North Korea's diplomatic and economic isolation."

He noted that China supplies North Korea with oil and Russia "is the largest employer of North Korean forced labor." He called on both countries to take direct action to show they oppose the missile launches.

Jihye Lee contributed to this post.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

In Japan, people in the northern region of Hokkaido woke up to sirens and instructions to take cover.

(SOUNDBITE OF SIRENS)

KELLY: This after North Korea again fired a ballistic missile which, again, flew over Japan. And this comes just days after the United Nations slapped another set of sanctions on North Korea. NPR's Elise Hu is tracking all of this from Seoul, South Korea.

Hi there, Elise.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Good morning.

KELLY: Hi.

So give us the details. What do we know about this test today?

HU: This missile fired is believed to be the same type that was launched over Japan on August 29. But this time, it went a farther distance, about 2,200 miles, before landing in the ocean off Hokkaido's east coast. And that's important because it can send a message that if the direction of this missile were different and it was aimed at, say, Guam, then this type of missile could reach that U.S. territory, which North Korea, as you know, has threatened before.

KELLY: Indeed. So we heard the sirens there. How else is Japan reacting to the latest test?

HU: It also sent out text alerts to all cellphones in the 12-prefecture region that was affected, of course. It also interrupted radio and television broadcasts there because the Japanese government was concerned about falling debris. Ultimately, officials say there was no debris reported and that the Japanese people were not in danger. But the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, is very upset. He's calling for international unity in getting more pressure to be applied on North Korea.

But that's really kind of all Japan can do at the moment. And the same goes for South Korea, where I'm at, because the core security issue is between the U.S. and North Korea. And both sides so far, in general, are continuing on the same path as before, which is this cycle we've been in of provocation, then condemnation, then isolation before the cycle starts back over again.

KELLY: Well, that's right. I mean, it does seem as though almost every week or so, at this point, there is some new test, some new provocation going on. Any sense of what might break the cycle?

HU: Well, if you speak with the proponents of isolation through sanctions, then the argument goes that if North Korea does feel sufficient pressure from these economic sanctions, that eventually, at some point, it will cry uncle and then want to return to the table for talks. There have been something like eight rounds of sanctions since 2006. And North Korea, up to this point, has only improved its nuclear capability and its testing in that time.

The other approach is to consider dialogue or direct talks. But even South Korea's president, Moon Jae-in, who was elected on a promise of more engagement with North Korea, is now saying that it's not time for dialogue. And North Korea, for its part, has shown no indication of willingness to return to talks from its side either unless there is major concessions.

KELLY: They certainly haven't. I mean, this is - what? - like the 15th North Korean missile test this year?

HU: Yes. And this is on pace with the tests of last year. So...

KELLY: Despite all of these new round of sanctions - I mean, it's clearly not working, what's being done so far.

HU: (Laughter) Until they do, is what the proponents of sanctions say. So (laughter) we'll see what happens. But, you know, one thing to remember, of course, is that North Korea really believes this is a deterrent for them, that these tests are defensive against what they see as a hostile U.S. And so it will be hard to get North Korea to give up its program.

KELLY: That's NPR's Elise Hu tracking this from Seoul.

Elise, thank you.

HU: You bet. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.