Monday 19 February 2018

North Korea fires ballistic missile over Japan, forcing country into latest state of alert

  • Missile passed over Hokkaido
  • Projectile 'put millions of Japanese into duck and cover'
  • US urges China and Russia to take direct action against North Korea
  • UN Security Council planned to convene a meeting today
Women in Tokyo walk past a large TV screen showing news about North Korea’s August 29 missile launch. Photo: Reuters
Women in Tokyo walk past a large TV screen showing news about North Korea’s August 29 missile launch. Photo: Reuters
People walk past a TV news report on North Korea's possible nuclear test, in Tokyo (AP)

Jeremy B White

North Korea has fired a ballistic missile over Japan, its latest act of aggression against a neighbour and key Western ally amid a escalating war of rhetoric with the United States. The missile launch will prove a stern test for both President Doanld Trump and the UN who have so far failed to get Pyongyang to rein in its nuclear ambitions.

The Japanese government said the missile, which was launched from Pyongyang's Sunan district, had passed over Hokkaido and the country's military did not try to shoot it down. The US military also said it had detected an intermediate-range ballistic missile, with Defence Secretary Jim Mattis saying the projectile “put millions of Japanese into duck and cover”. Japan issued a nationwide alert that urged residents in the country's north to take shelter, and Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters he condemned the attack in the strongest possible terms.

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged China and Russia to take direct action against North Korea in response to its latest missile launch. "China and Russia must indicate their intolerance for these reckless missile launches by taking direct actions of their own," he said in a statement.

This is the second time in recent weeks that a North Korean missile has flown over Japan, putting the country on high alert and emphasising the stakes as North Korea accompanies hostile language with displays of more sophisticated military technology.

That provocative conduct has repeatedly spurred the United Nations to action but to little effect. Leaders are gathering soon for a United Nations General Assembly meeting, the first for Donald Trump. The UN Security Council planned to convene a meeting today to discuss the latest firing.

While the White House confirmed that Mr Trump had been briefed last night, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred reporters to the State Department and the Department of Defense for a response. Earlier in the day Mr Trump told reporters that “people in this country will be very, very safe.”

The latest missile reportedly travelled 3,700 km, farther than the 2,700 km logged by the prior missile hurled over Japan and far enough to potentially strike the American territory of Guam. North Korea has issued a series of threats against Guam, which hosts a substantial American military presence, and Korean state media called the prior test of a missile over Japan a “a meaningful prelude to containing Guam”. In a statement, US Pacific Command said the latest missile “did not pose a threat to Guam”.

An increasingly assertive North Korea has been displaying its advances in military technology by launching a steady drumbeat of missile tests and, last weekend, performing its sixth nuclear test that was far more powerful than previous attempts.

In the wake of that test, the UN approved the latest round of sanctions, which seek to further stifle North Korea’s economy by limiting energy exports and banning textile exports. But in response North Korea lashed out with a statement calling to “annihilate the US imperialist aggressors" and “reduce the U.S. mainland into ashes and darkness”.

The statement, issued by a spokesman for the government-run Korea Asia-Pacific Peace Committee and carried by Korean propaganda arm KCNA, also advocated the destruction of Japan.

“The four islands of the archipelago should be sunken into the sea by the nuclear bomb of Juche. Japan is no longer needed to exist near us”, the spokesman said.

While the United States initially did not formally concur with North Korea’s statement that the device used for that nuclear test was a hydrogen bomb, yesterday Air Force General John Hyten cited the blast’s size in telling reporters that “I‘m assuming it was a hydrogen bomb”.

As North Korean has continued to defy the world with weapons tests and belligerent rhetoric, the warnings from Washington have kept pace. Donald Trump contributed to rising tensions when he warned in August that the United States would respond with “fire and fury” to continued menacing from North Korean.

Since then, as North Korea has continued to flex its muscles, while the Trump administration has consistently kept the use of military force on the table. Mr Mattis has said America would marshal a “massive military response” to threats from North Korea saying America was capable of “the total annihilation of a country”.

Before the latest missile launch Mr Trump alluded to working with China to tackle the North Korean peril, saying “we have a great relationship with China, and the president of China”, though China has chastised the US for escalating tensions. Mr Trump and Chinese President Xi Jingping emphasized a nonmilitary response after recently discussing the standoff on the phone, though Mr Trump pointedly did not rule it out.

In an interview with Sky News, Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull condemned the latest launch as “dangerous” and “criminal” but portrayed it as a sign that the latest sanctions imposed on North Korea are having their intended effect.

“This is a sign, I believe, of their frustration at the increased sanctions on North Korea, recently imposed by the Security Council. It's a sign that the sanctions are working.”

Independent News Service

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