North Korea fires missile over Japan, demonstrating new might
SEOUL — North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un, has authorized more than 80 missile tests since taking power almost six years ago. But all of those missiles landed in nearby waters because they were of limited range or fired at a sharp angle, high into space, so they would splash down without going too far.
On Tuesday, the North abandoned that restraint, lobbing an intermediate-range ballistic missile at a normal angle and sending it over the Japanese island of Hokkaido, into a spot in the Western Pacific almost 1,700 miles away. In doing so, Kim may have been trying to show that he can hit a faraway target, for the first time doing a more realistic test of the type of missile he had threatened to use to strike near the U.S. territory of Guam.
“By lobbing a missile over Japan, North Korea is showing that it was not an empty threat when it said it would launch missiles toward Guam,” said Chang Young-keun, a missile expert at Korea Aerospace University near Seoul.
If that is the natural next stage of the North’s missile development program, the world may see more such tests. Because of North Korea’s location — squeezed between China and South Korea, with Japan to the east and southeast and Russia to the northeast — there is essentially no way that the North can test missiles on such trajectories without flying over another nation.
“If the previous launchings were for testing technologies, this one was a realistic demonstration of an intermediate-range ballistic missile capability,” Chang said. “In this test, the North’s missile actually flew at a realistic angle and trajectory.”
President Donald Trump said in a statement Tuesday that North Korea had “signaled its contempt for its neighbors, for all members of the United Nations, and for minimum standards of acceptable international behavior.”
He added, “Threatening and destabilizing actions only increase the North Korean regime’s isolation in the region and among all nations of the world. All options are on the table.”
The North Korean missile was widely believed to be a Hwasong-12, an intermediate-range ballistic missile that the North says is designed to carry a large nuclear warhead.