On Saturday, North Korea fired an intercontinental ballistic missile that landed in waters within Japan’s exclusive economic zone, according to Japanese and South Korean officials. This came after Pyongyang warned that upcoming U.S.-South Korea military drills would lead to a strong response. Japan’s government spokesman, Hirokazu Matsuno, told reporters that the missile flew for 66 minutes before landing in the economic zone and had a range of 8,700 miles, giving it the capacity to strike the United States. The South Korean military said in a statement that intelligence sources were closely analyzing the detailed specifications of the missile and its flight. The Joint Chiefs of Staff in Seoul said the ballistic missile was fired at around 5:22 p.m. from an area in Sunan, where Pyongyang’s international airport is located and where its military has conducted most of its intercontinental ballistic missile tests in recent years. They added that the missile had been fired on a high trajectory to avoid overflying neighboring countries.
The U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the missile launch did not pose “an immediate threat” and the United States is “consulting closely” with allies, including Japan and South Korea. Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Tokyo was closely communicating with Washington and Seoul over the launch, which he described as “an act of violence that escalates provocation toward the international order.”
The missile launch came after North Korea’s Foreign Ministry on Friday threatened “unprecedently” strong action against its rivals after South Korea announced a series of military exercises with the United States with the aim of enhancing their ability to respond to the increasing threats posed by North Korea. North Korea set a new record last year in weapons demonstrations, including the launch of over 70 ballistic missiles, some of which had the capacity to reach the U.S. mainland. The country also carried out a series of launches that it claimed to be simulated nuclear attacks on South Korean and American targets. It said the launches were in response to the allies’ renewed large-scale joint military exercises, which had been reduced in scale for a number of years.
In the middle of March, South Korea will hold an 11-day computer-simulated joint training session with the United States that will reflect Pyongyang’s nuclear threats. South Korea’s deputy minister of national defence policy, Heo Tae-keun, also said that Washington and Seoul would conduct joint field exercises in March that would be greater in scale than those held in recent years.
Japan’s Ministry of Defence on Thursday put forward a proposal that would allow Japan’s Self-Defense Force (SDF) to shoot down foreign balloons and drones that threaten the country and its citizens. This came after the ministry revealed several days prior that it “strongly” suspected Chinese surveillance balloons had entered Japanese airspace multiple times in recent years. The policy would permit the use of weapons against drones and balloons that pose a hazard to civil air traffic, even if doing so does not constitute legitimate self-defense. The ministry said that it would take into account the safety of citizens and civilian aircraft flights before approving any use of weapons against unmanned aircraft.