North Korea has fired a mid-range ballistic missile over Japan, the fifth launch in 10 days, amid expectations that it is gearing up to test its first nuclear weapon in five years.
The missile, detected by the Japanese coast guard and South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, prompted warning alarms in northern Japan with residents advised to take shelter. Train services in northern regions of the country were suspended temporarily.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida condemned what he called a “barbaric” act.
TV Asahi, citing an unnamed government source, said North Korea might have fired an intercontinental ballistic missile and that it fell into the sea some 3,000 km (1,860 miles) from Japan.
There were no further details on the weapon.
Pyongyang has conducted a series of launches around military drills held by the United States and South Korea, which it considers a rehearsal for invasion. The US and South Korea, which staged its own show of advanced weaponry on Saturday to mark its Armed Forces Day, say the exercises are defensive in nature.
Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said that firing a weapon over Japan represented a “significant escalation” of recent provocations.
“Diplomacy isn’t dead, but talks aren’t about to resume either,” Easley said in comments by email. “Pyongyang is still in the middle of a provocation and testing cycle and is likely waiting until after China’s mid-October Communist Party Congress to conduct an even more significant test.”
North Korea has conducted a record number of weapons tests this year and analysts see the increased pace of testing as an effort to build its capacity for ballistic weapons, which it is banned from testing under UN sanctions.
Officials in South Korea have suggested North Korea might carry out a nuclear test after the end of the Congress in China and before the US holds its mid-term elections in November. Pyongyang last carried out a nuclear test in September 2017.
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