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North Korea launches missile over Japan, sending residents to shelter

Seoul CNN  — 

Japan urged residents to take shelter early Tuesday morning after North Korea fired at least one ballistic missile over the north of the country in an escalation of Pyongyang’s missile tests that prompted immediate backlash from Tokyo.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff (JCS) confirmed the missile passed eastward over neighboring Japan after launching from North Korea’s Mupyong-ri area in Jagang Province at around 7:23 a.m. local time.

It’s the first ballistic missile launched over Japan since 2017 and increases the tally for 2022, the most prolific year for ballistic missile tests since Kim Jong Un assumed power in North Korea in 2012, according to the Unification Ministry and a CNN tally as of this past weekend.

A tweet posted by Japan’s Prime Minister’s office urged residents in Japan’s northernmost main island of Hokkaido and the country’s northeastern prefecture of Aomori to take shelter in buildings and “to not approach anything suspicious that is found and to immediately contact the police or fire department.”

Addressing the media Tuesday, Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida condemned the launch.

“Recent repeated ballistic missile launches are outrageous and we strongly condemn it,” Kishida said during a press conference at his official residence.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno told reporters that North Korea appeared to have fired a ballistic missile in the direction of Hokkaido, the country’s northernmost main island.

The missile flew over its northeastern prefecture of Aomori and landed outside Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone around 7:46 a.m. local time (6:46 p.m. ET), Matsuno said.

Matsuno added that he considered the launch a “threat to the public” and said Japan’s government would continue to analyze the situation and work closely with the international community.

According to CNN’s count, Tuesday’s launch marks North Korea’s 23rd missile launch this year, including both ballistic and cruise missiles.

Pyongyang fired four missiles in the space of a week late last month and early this month, around the same time US Vice President Kamala Harris made an official visit to Japan and South Korea, and as US, Japanese and South Korean navies held joint exercises.

However, launches over Japan are more rare; the last time North Korea fired a ballistic missile over territorial Japan was in 2017 when sirens rang out across the northern Japanese island of Hokkaido.

Tuesday’s launch could herald an intensification of provocations by North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, experts told CNN.

“Pyongyang is still in the middle of a provocation and testing cycle and is likely waiting until after China’s mid-October Communist Party Congress to conduct an even more significant test,” said Leif-Eric Easley, associate professor of international studies at Ewha Womans University in Seoul.

“The Kim regime is developing weapons such as tactical nuclear warheads and submarine-launched ballistic missiles as part of a long-term strategy to outrun South Korea in an arms race and drive wedges among US allies.”

Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute, said a nuclear test could even be on the cards. “North Korea is going to keep conducting missile tests until the current round of modernization is done. I don’t think a nuclear (test) explosion is far behind,” he told CNN.

Yoonjung Seo reported from Seoul and Emiko Jozuka from Tokyo.

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