North Korea fired a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile, ratcheting up tensions after issuing a warning to the US and parading a record number of rockets through the streets of Pyongyang designed to deliver a nuclear warhead to the American mainland.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida told reporters the missile fired by North Korea on Saturday was an apparent ICBM that landed within the country's exclusive economic zone off Hokkaido. The missile reached an altitude of about 5,700 kilometers (3,540 miles) and traveled a distance of about 900 kilometers on a lofted trajectory, the government's top spokesman Hirokazu Matsuno said, adding there have been no reports of damage.
"The latest launch was an outrageous act that was an escalatory provocation against the entire international community," Kishida said.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said North Korea launched a longer-range missile from an area near Pyongyang's international airport at about 5:22 p.m. Japan's Coast Guard said the missile was seen falling at about 6:27 pm. local time in waters off the main northern island of Hokkaido.
The information provided by Tokyo and Seoul indicates the missile flew for more than an hour, which would be similar to the flight times of other North Korean ICBM tests.
North Korea's Foreign Ministry on Friday threatened the US with "unprecedentedly persistent and strong counteractions" if it went ahead with joint military exercises with South Korea. In late January, the US and South Korea announced plans to step up the scale of their joint military exercises, a move that has in the past prompted threats and weapons tests by North Korea.
US, South Korea to bolster military drills
North Korea's last test of an ICBM was in November. It flew for more than an hour, reaching an altitude of around 6,000 kilometers and a distance of about 1,000 kilometers. Kim's daughter, thought to be about 10 years old, was on hand for the launch and the event marked her first official appearance in state media.
Pyongyang fired three short range ballistic missiles on Dec. 31 and shot off one more in the opening hours of the first day of 2023.
Kim pledged to increase his nuclear arsenal in the new year to stifle US and South Korean hostile acts, in a policy-setting address released on Jan. 1 where he left almost no opening for a return to long-stalled disarmament talks.
Kim Jong Un Puts New ICBM, And a Potential Heir, on Parade
The latest launch comes after North Korea put on its biggest display of ICBMs during a military parade in Pyongyang earlier this month. Kim oversaw the festivities and brought along his daughter "- signaling that there's another generation ready to take over the Cold War's last continuous family dynasty and it will depend on nuclear weapons for its survival.
Images from the parade included 11 of its Hwasong-17 rockets, which experts say is the world's biggest road-worthy ICBM, and five cannisters for an apparent new solid-fuel ICBM.
All of the ICBMs were on mobile launchers, and the most of their type ever displayed at a parade. This increases his chances of a strike that could overwhelm US missile defenses. The solid-propellant missiles would be easier to move and quicker to fire than the state's current arsenal of liquid-fuel ICBMs, giving Washington less time to shoot one down.
North Korea's state media on Saturday reported that Kim took his daughter to watch a soccer match as part of the celebrations for North Korea's Day of the Shining Star to mark the birthday of Kim Jong Il, the father of the current leader.
Last year, Kim Jong Un's regime test fired more than 70 ballistic missiles, the most in his decade in power and in defiance of United Nations resolutions that prohibit the launches. He has stepped up provocations in recent months in a display of anger at joint military drills in the region by the US and its allies, South Korea and Japan.
Kim Jong Un has been modernizing his inventory of missiles over the past several years to make them easier to hide, quicker to deploy and more difficult to shoot down. Over the past several months, he has tested missiles designed to deliver nuclear weapons to South Korea and Japan, as well as firing off intercontinental ballistic missiles with ranges to hit the American mainland.
North Korea could raise regional tensions even higher with its first nuclear test since 2017. The US, South Korea and Japan have said for months that Pyongyang appears ready to test a device at any time and the three have pledged stern and coordinated punishments if Kim goes ahead with an atomic test.
But the North Korean leader is finding space to ramp up provocations and conduct tit-for-tat military moves against the US and its allies as President Joe Biden focuses on Russia's war in Ukraine.