North Korea launches missile over Japan

North Korea has fired a ballistic missile over northern Japan for the second time in less than a month, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said Friday.

The unidentified ballistic missile was launched from the district of Sunan in the North Korean capital of Pyongyang, home to the country’s main airport, the South Korean military said.

The missile flew about 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) and reached an altitude of 770 kilometers (480) miles. It landed in the Pacific Ocean, South Korea said.

The US Pacific Command said its initial assessment indicated that North Korea had fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile. There were conflicting reports from Japan on the type of missile fired, though the government stressed that analysis was ongoing.

A government warning, known as the J-Alert, said that “a missile” had passed over Hokkaido, northern Japan, before landing in the Pacific, NHK reported. “The government is advising people to stay away from anything that could be missile debris,” the broadcaster said.

Japan’s Coast Guard said no damage has been reported by the fallen object.

At a hastily convened press conference, Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga called the launch an “excessive provocation.” The government was convening a National Security Council Meeting at the Prime Minister’s office, the country’s Defense Ministry said.

South Korean President Moon Jae-in also held a National Security meeting following the launch, according to an official at his office.

North Korea’s last missile test, on August 29, was also fired from near the Pyongyang airport and overflew northern Japan.

US President Donald Trump has been briefed on the launch. When asked by a pool reporter about the launch Thursday evening Washington time at a dinner reception, Trump did not comment.

First launch since nuclear test

The launch came just hours after the rogue nation responded to the United Nations Security Council’s unanimous approval of additional sanctions by threatening to “sink” Japan and reduce the US mainland into “ash and darkness.”

Those sanctions were prompted by North Korea’s sixth nuclear test that occurred on September 3, which Pyongyang said was a successful test of a hydrogen bomb.

That explosion created a magnitude-6.3 tremor, making it the most powerful weapon Pyongyang has ever tested.

The nuclear test prompted discussions inside South Korea about the the redeployment of US tactical nuclear weapons in the country, an idea that the majority of the country’s citizens approve of, according to recent polls.

But on Thursday, South Korean President Moon Jae-in dismissed the possibility, warning it could “lead to a nuclear arms race in northeast Asia.”

“We need to develop our military capabilities in the face of North Korea’s nuclear advancement,” he told CNN in his first televised interview since North Korea’s sixth nuclear test. “I do not agree that South Korea needs to develop our own nuclear weapons or relocate tactical nuclear weapons in the face of North Korea’s nuclear threat. To respond to North Korea by having our own nuclear weapons will not maintain peace on the Korean Peninsula and could lead to a nuclear arms race in northeast Asia.”

South Korea has been conducting its own military drills since the September 3 nuclear test. As the missile was launched Friday, the South Korean military was carrying out its own live-fire drill that involved launching a ballistic missile.

A rapid pace

2017 has been a year of rapid progress for North Korea’s missile program.

Less than six years into his reign, Kim Jong Un has tested more missiles than his father and grandfather combined. And this year has been no exception.

Prior to its most recent launch, the country has fired 21 missiles during 14 tests since February, further perfecting its technology with each launch.

There’s also a political aspect to the tests, analysts say.

“The North Koreans were especially defiant by firing this missile over Japan,” said Gordon Chang, the author of “Nuclear Showdown: North Korea takes on the World.”

“Basically, the North Koreans are saying we can’t be stopped, don’t even try to stop us,” he said.

Peaceful pressure

Moon’s strategy toward North Korea has drawn the wrath of US President Donald Trump, who accused the South Koreans of “appeasement” of their northern neighbors following the nuclear test.

The White House has been pursuing a strategy of what it calls “peaceful pressure” in dealing with North Korea — trying to build a global coalition to squeeze North Korea’s revenue and isolate it diplomatically so it will eventually put its missiles on the negotiating table.

China has been key to that strategy, as Beijing accounts for nearly 90% of all of North Korea’s imports, according to recent data from the United Nations.

Hours before the launch, Trump touted his relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping and their collaboration in addressing North Korea’s rapidly escalating missile and nuclear programs.

“We have a very good relationship with China and with the President of China. We are working on different things,” Trump said. “I can’t tell you, obviously, what I’m working on. But believe me, the people of this country will be very, very safe.”

“I think that a lot of effort is being put into this,” he added.