South Korea's President Yoon Suk-yeol has warned of a “resolute” response after North Korea launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) over northern Japan first time in five years.
The remarks came shortly after the South Korean military said it detected one IRBM launched eastward past Japan, with Yoon vowing to hold Pyongyang accountable with stronger sanctions.
"North Korea again launched an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) of around 4,000 kilometers over the Japanese archipelago," he said on Tuesday.
"As I stated on Oct. 1 Armed Forces Day, such reckless nuclear provocation will face resolute response from our military as well as our allies and the international community.”
In the wake of the missile launch, South Korea’s National Security Council held a meeting on Tuesday, chaired by Yoon’s national security adviser Kim Sung-han and attended among others by presidential chief of staff Kim Dae-ki, foreign minister Park Jin and defense minister Lee Jong-sup.
Yoon, who also attended the meeting, termed the North’s latest missile launch a violation of UN Security Council resolutions and a “provocation” threatening the peace on the Korean Peninsula, in Northeast Asia, and beyond, his office said.
"President Yoon noted that North Korea's provocation clearly violated the U.N.'s universal principles and rules, and ordered a strict response, as well as the pursuit of corresponding measures in cooperation with the United States and the international community," read the statement.
Japan to strengthen its defenses
Following North Korea's missile launch, the Japanese government activated its J-Alert system on Tuesday morning for residents in the northernmost island of Hokkaido and north-eastern Aomori prefecture, according to the official Kyodo news agency.
“North Korea appears to have launched a missile. Please evacuate into buildings or underground,” the alert reportedly stated, leading to chaos and commotion in the region.
Japanese prime minister, Fumio Kishida, called Pyongyang’s actions “outrageous”, and said his government would continue to gather and analyze information on it.
Defense minister Yasukazu Hamada said his country will “examine all options”, including counterattack capabilities, in order to strengthen its defenses in the face of North Korean missile launches.
"In light of this situation, we will continue to examine all options - including so-called 'counterattack capabilities' and not rule out anything as we continue to work to fundamentally strengthen our defense abilities," Hamada told a media briefing on Tuesday.
He explained that the altitude of 1000 kilometers and the fact that the missile flew about 4600 kilometers meant that it has the capability of at least an Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile (IRBM).
The official further suggested that the 4600 kilometer range the missile covered this time was likely the longest ever distance compared to the past missile launches by North Korea.
US pledges to defend allies
Meanwhile, the United States condemned the missile launch as "dangerous and reckless" and pledged to defend its allies South Korea and Japan, but added that the window for dialogue with Pyongyang remains open.
Daniel Kritenbrink, the US State Department assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said such a "dangerous" act would represent "a grave escalation that would seriously threaten regional and international stability and security."
"It is in the international community's best interest to ensure the DPRK (Democratic People's Republic of Korea) knows that such an action will be met by unanimous condemnation, that the only path towards long-term peace and stability is through negotiations," he said.
Kritenbrink stressed that Washington would "respond resolutely" to the growing North Korean threat and "take all necessary measures, involving all elements of American national power" to defend treaty allies South Korea and Japan.
He, however, hastened to add that Washington remains open to dialogue with North Korea without preconditions and called Pyongyang to "commit to serious and sustained diplomacy, and refrain from further destabilizing activities."
It was the first time North Korea launched a missile over Japanese territory since 2017, forcing residents in the northernmost island of Hokkaido and north-eastern Aomori prefecture to run for cover, while also disrupting train services.
The latest launch was Pyongyang's fifth in 10 days, amid military muscle-flexing by the United States, South Korea, and Japan in the region.
North Korea maintains that its weapon tests are meant to act as a deterrent against threats posed by the hostile neighbor and its Western allies amid regular war games in the territorial waters.
In August, the US and South Korea staged their largest joint military drills since 2018, marking the resumption of large-scale war games that had been scaled back due to the Covid-19 pandemic and Washington’s failed peace overtures to Pyongyang.