Kim Jong-un escalated his military stance early Tuesday, Aug. 29, by firing a ballistic missile over Japan’s northern Island of Hokkaido. It broke up into three pieces and landed in Japan’s Pacific, 200km from the island’s coast, after flying 2,700km. The Japanese government issued a warning over radio and TV as sirens blared and text messages were fired off across northern Japan instructing people in the missile’s flight path to take cover.
Trains were delayed as passengers were urged to seek shelter inside stations. “All lines are experiencing disruption,” one sign on Sapporo’s metro system read. “Reason: Ballistic missile launch.”
The UN Security Council called an emergency meeting for later Tuesday, after Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters. "This reckless act of launching a missile that flies over our country is an unprecedented, serious and important threat."
The test, which appeared to be of a newly-developed intermediate-range Hwasong-12 missile, came as the US and South Korea conducted their annual military exercise. It followed the praise US President Donald Trump and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson heaped on the North Korean dictator for his restraint in holding back a threatened missile attack on Guam.
Christopher R Hill, a former US ambassador in East Asia and the former US negotiator with North Korea, called it the "most serious missile launch yet" on Twitter. The Sunan launch site, near Pyongyang, was used for the first time and could mean that North Korea has expanded the number of sites it can use or that it may have wanted to evade detection.
Neither the Japanese military, nor the US Pacific Navy, which is on a high state of preparedness, made any effort to shoot down the missile, even when it crossed Japanese air space for the first time. Military sources say Kim had evidently caught them all napping and showed up Washington and Tokyo as short of answers for North Korean missile and nuclear advances.
After a 40-minute conversation with Donald Trump, the Japanese prime minister said they had agreed to escalate the pressure on North Korea. South Korea and the United States had discussed deploying additional "strategic assets" on the Korean peninsula, the presidential Blue House said in a statement, without giving any more details. Tillerson spoke of “tougher sanctions.”
The Washington-based Geostrategic Consulting group Strategic Sentinel tweeted that South Korean and US Joint Chiefs chairs had agreed to take strong response including military measures against North Korea. However, both Trump and Abe can hardly avoid responding to Kim’s latest provocation without serious loss of international clout and prestige. Their response is closely watched by other rogue regimes, such as Iran, as a guide to how far they can challenge the Trump administration and the West in general.