North Korea has launched a ballistic missile over Japan in what is being seen as a deliberate attempt to get the attention of Japan and the United States.
Tension in the region is as high as its ever been, with flight cancellations between major hubs in East Asia pointing towards airspace safety concerns.
First North Korean missile over Japan in five years
In a five-year first, North Korea launched a ballistic missile over Japan, landing far away in the Pacific Ocean. The missile travelled around 4,500km (2,800 miles), far enough to reach the U.S. island of Guam if the trajectory of the missile had been further South.
Residents of Japan woke up on Tuesday to the sound of sirens and text notifications. Texts translated to “North Korea appears to have launched a missile. Please evacuate into buildings or underground.” Despite sirens and alarms blaring across Japan’s cities and towns, life continued as normal, with commuters seen walking unfazed in one video on Twitter.
Japanese officials confirmed that an intermediate-range ballistic missile landed far away from the East Asian nation in the Pacific Ocean, causing no harm to civilians. However, concerns are mounting over North Korea’s intentions after the missile travelled further than any launched by the secretive state.
There has been much speculation over what type of missile was used. Kim Dong-yup, a former South Korea Navy officer currently teaching at Kyungnam University, suggested it was a Hwasong-12 IRBM, which North Korea unveiled in 2017. The dictator state claimed the missile would be used as part of a plan to strike military bases on the U.S. island of Guam.
The Hwasong-12 missile was first launched from Jagang in 2017, travelling a short distance and landing safely in the Sea of Japan. Typically, test missiles are fired at an extreme lofted trajectory, travelling relatively short distances. If this launch proved to be a Hwasong-12, the distance reached would be considered close to its maximum range, indicating North Korea is carrying out “real world” tests.
“Compared to the usual highly lofted trajectory, this allows them to expose a long-range reentry vehicle to thermal loads and atmospheric reentry stresses that are more representative of the conditions they’d endure in real-world use,” Kim Dong-yup speaking to Reuters.
On this occasion, the missile travelled 4,500km reaching a peak height of around 1,000km, which is higher than the International Space Station.
The launch came at a time of intense activity from the North, having launched five rockets in the past ten days, some reported to be hypersonic (speeds five times faster than sound, also known as Mach 5). The dictator state has been accused of using ongoing rising tensions around the world as a reason to continue testing missiles, despite a strict ban set in place by the United Nations. The U.N. currently prohibits North Korea from testing and launching ballistic missiles and nuclear weapons. According to the BBC, there is evidence to suggest the North could be preparing for a nuclear test in the near future as leader Kim Jong-Un fears his enemies are “preparing for war”.
U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres criticised the incident as a “reckless act” and violation of Security Council resolutions. The U.S. asked the 15-member U.N. Security Council to meet on North Korea but was met with opposition to an open discussion by China and Russia.
U.S. President Joe Biden was quick to condemn the violent act and met Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida by phone, labelling the launch a danger to the Japanese people. Biden reinforced Washington’s ” Ironclad commitment” to Japan’s defence on the call, according to the White House.
South Korea and the U.S. launched test missiles in response to the North’s actions. An attempted missile test by the South backfired as it blew up at an airbase. Locals in the coastal city of Gangneung feared the worst when they heard the blast, assuming it was a missile from the North. Panic only grew stronger as the South Korean government delayed confirming what had happened.
The U.S. and South Korea deployed a South Korean F-15K fighter jet firing two air-to-surface munitions at a virtual target in the Yellow Sea. The “flex of muscle” proved to be a retaliation to the North Korean missile.
Flights in East Asia are being cancelled without reason
Tensions in Japan are understandably high. Citizens were warned to take cover early on Tuesday in response to a missile launched by the dictator state. Trains were briefly suspended, and flights were cancelled over unconfirmed fear of airspace safety.
“It’s a serious concern that Poyongyang had again disregarded international flight and maritime safety,” said U.N. spokes an Stephane Dujarric.
Several flights departing Tokyo Haneda International Airport, the city’s busiest airport, were cancelled today. The majority of flights cancelled were destined to travel near or over the East Asian region and the Pacific Ocean.
Multiple flights due to leave Tokyo Haneda Airport were cancelled today. Destinations of cancelled flights included Taipei, Seoul, Los Angeles, Honolulu and Kona. All of which require flying through airspace a North Korean missile test could pass through. However, other major transport hubs, such as Seoul Incheon International Airport, saw cancellations on Wednesday.
Delays and cancellations are not expected to continue as no official reason has been provided. However, disruptions cannot be ruled out going into Thursday, with more missile tests likely.
Sources: Associated Press, Reuters