North Korea fired a long-range missile off its east coast on Wednesday, as leaders of South Korea and Japan were set to meet on the sidelines of the NATO summit in Lithuania to discuss rising threats including the nuclear-armed North.
The launch came after heated complaints from North Korea in recent days, accusing American spy planes of violating airspace in its economic zones and condemning a recent visit to South Korea by an American nuclear-powered cruise missile submarine.
Japan’s Coast Guard said what was believed to be a ballistic missile appeared to have landed as of mid-morning. It had earlier predicted the projectile would fall outside Japan’s EEZ and around 550 km (340 miles) east of the Korean peninsula.
The missile flew for 74 minutes to an altitude of 6,000 km and range of 1,000 km, TV Asahi reported, citing a Japanese defence official, in what would be the longest ever flight time for a North Korean missile.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who is in Lithuania to attend the NATO summit, ordered his staff to gather information and stay alert to prepare for unpredicted events, according to the prime minister’s office.
Kishida is expected to meet with South Korean President Yoon Suk Yeol on Wednesday, and Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said a summit was also planned with South Korea, Australia and New Zealand.
“We will respond in close cooperation with the international community,” Matsuno told a news conference.
He said the launch threatened the peace and stability both of the region and the international community, and that Japan had lodged a protest through diplomatic channels in Beijing.
With a wary eye on North Korea’s military moves and other rising challenges in the region, Yoon has moved to repair frayed ties with Japan and reduce historical disputes that have limited cooperation between the two U.S. allies.
This year North Korea has test fired its first ever solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), and conducted a failed attempt to launch its first-ever spy satellite on a new launch vehicle. United Nations Security Council resolutions ban North Korea’s use of ballistic missile technology, including for satellite launches.
The Security Council, as well as a number of nations, have imposed sanction on North Korea for its missile and nuclear weapons programmes.
Analysts say commercial satellite imagery shows North Korea is expected to stage displays of military force, including a large parade, for an upcoming holiday on July 27 that commemorates its claim to victory in the 1950-1953 Korean War against the United States, South Korea, and their allies.
Kim Yo Jong, the powerful sister of leader Kim Jong Un, on Tuesday accused a U.S. military spy plane of entering the country’s Exclusive Economic Zone eight times, state media KCNA reported.
“Kim Yo Jong’s bellicose statement against U.S. surveillance aircraft is part of a North Korean pattern of inflating external threats to rally domestic support and justify weapons tests, said Leif-Eric Easley, an international studies professor at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.
“Pyongyang also times its shows of force to disrupt what it perceives as diplomatic coordination against it, in this case, South Korea and Japan’s leaders meeting during the NATO summit.”