North Korea on Tuesday fired a ballistic missile over northeast Japan, the first it has sent across the Japanese archipelago in nearly five years, just days after launching missiles toward the Sea of Japan despite an international outcry.
Japan's Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada told reporters that the missile flew 4,600 kilometers, the longest distance ever for an intermediate-range or longer one fired by North Korea, reaching an altitude of 1,000 km.
White House National Security Council spokeswoman Adrienne Watson said in a statement that according to a U.S. assessment North Korea launched a "long-range" missile.
Hamada said the missile flew over Japan for around one minute and landed outside the country's exclusive economic zone some 3,200 km east of the nation in the Pacific Ocean, adding there were no reports of damage to aircraft or ships.
The missile could have been a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile, which Pyongyang has fired four times in the past, Hamada said.
It is the seventh time North Korea has launched a missile over Japan. The last occasion was in September 2017.
Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno lambasted North Korea's action as an "imminent threat" to the region and the international community.
Matsuno warned that North Korea could engage in additional provocative actions, including its seventh nuclear test and first since September 2017.
Tokyo lodged a protest with Pyongyang over the missile launch through the embassy in Beijing, said Matsuno, the top government spokesman, adding Japan did not try to destroy the projectile as damage to the country was not expected.
Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan "strongly protests" against the latest missile launch, which he called "outrageous."
Earlier in the day, the government issued an alert urging residents in Japan's northernmost main island of Hokkaido and the nation's northeastern prefecture of Aomori to stay inside buildings.
Matsuno said at a press conference in the morning the missile was fired at 7:22 a.m. and is believed to have splashed down in the Pacific Ocean outside Japan's EEZ around 7:44 a.m.
The missile's presence in Japanese airspace caused disruptions at airports, with All Nippon Airways Co. and Japan Airlines Co. reporting that in response to a government J-Alert staff working on the tarmac at some airports in Hokkaido and Tohoku temporarily evacuated indoors.
The takeoff of a plane departing from Aomori airport for Narita airport near Tokyo was delayed, while shinkansen bullet train services in Tohoku and Hokkaido were briefly suspended.
Senior Japanese, U.S. and South Korean officials talked over the phone and criticized North Korea's missile launch as a "clear and serious challenge" to the international community.
Japanese Foreign Minister Yoshimasa Hayashi said he agreed with his U.S. counterpart Antony Blinken during a phone call to "closely cooperate toward the complete denuclearization of North Korea."
Later in the day, Hayashi also held phone talks with South Korean Foreign Minister Park Jin, pledging to maintain close bilateral and trilateral collaboration, involving the United States, in responding to the North Korean threat at the U.N. Security Council, according to the Japanese Foreign Ministry.
In Tokyo, Hamada met with visiting U.S. Indo-Pacific Command chief Adm. John Aquilino. They strongly condemned North Korea's latest missile launch, while reaffirming the importance of the Japan-U.S. alliance.
Takeo Akiba, secretary general of Japan's National Security Secretariat, and his U.S. counterpart Jake Sullivan also confirmed during phone talks their countries' readiness to bolster bilateral cooperation to tackle threats from North Korea.
Washington, meanwhile, condemned Pyongyang's move as "dangerous and reckless," Watson said, adding it showed North Korea's "blatant disregard" for U.N. Security Council resolutions.
The United States will "resolutely" respond to the growing threats posed by North Korea, and its defense commitments to its key allies Japan and South Korea are "ironclad," Daniel Kritenbrink, the State Department's top diplomat for East Asia, told an online think tank event on Monday.
The South Korean military said North Korea fired a medium-range ballistic missile eastward from Mupyong-ri in the northern province of Jagang.
Tuesday's missile launch was North Korea's fifth in 10 days. It previously fired missiles on Saturday in an apparent protest against joint naval drills held last week involving the United States and South Korea.
Since the start of this year, Pyongyang has repeatedly conducted ballistic missile tests in violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions after a hiatus of almost four months apparently due to a COVID-19 outbreak in the nation.
Pyongyang has been also stepping up military provocations after U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris' trip to South Korea during which she visited the Demilitarized Zone on the border of the two Koreas.
© Kyodo News International, Inc., source Newswire