Seoul—North Korea fired a suspected intercontinental ballistic missile Friday, Seoul’s military said, which Japan said may have had the range to hit the US mainland.
The missile was believed to have landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone (EEZ), Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said as he blasted the launch as “absolutely unacceptable”.
The launch is Pyongyang’s second in two days and is part of a record-breaking blitz in recent weeks.
Confirming the launch, Tokyo said that based on its calculations, the missile may have had the range to hit the US mainland.
North Korea claims the recent wave of launches is a response to Washington’s moves to bolster its protection of regional security allies, South Korea and Japan.
Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it had “detected a long-range ballistic missile (ICBM) around 10:15 (0115 GMT) fired from the Sunan area in Pyongyang towards the East Sea,” referring to the body of water also known as the Sea of Japan.
The missile flew 1,000 km (621 miles) at an altitude of 6,100 km and speeds of Mach 22, the South Korean military said, calling it a “serious provocation damaging peace and security on the Korean Peninsula”.
Tokyo’s Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada told reporters that the “ICBM-class missile” had been fired on a “lofted trajectory”—meaning the missile is fired up not out, typically to avoid overflying neighbouring countries.
“Based on calculations taking the trajectory into account, the ballistic missile this time around could have had a range capability of 15,000 km, depending on the weight of its warhead, and if that’s the case, it means the US mainland was within its range,” he said.
The launch comes a day after North Korea fired a short-range ballistic missile as its minister of foreign affairs, Choe Son Hui, warned Pyongyang would take “fiercer” military action if the United States strengthened its “extended deterrence” commitment to regional allies.
Washington has been seeking to boost regional security cooperation and ramp up joint military drills in response to increasing provocations from the nuclear-armed North.
US President Joe Biden discussed North Korea’s recent missile tests with Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping earlier this week and also spoke with leaders from Tokyo and Seoul, as fears grow that the reclusive regime will soon carry out its seventh nuclear test.
North Korea was also top of the agenda when leaders of China and Japan held their first face-to-face talks in three years Thursday at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Bangkok.
Experts said the launch of one of North Korea’s most powerful weapons was a clear sign leader Kim Jong Un was displeased by the recent talks.
Firing an ICBM “is a clear message to the US and Japan,” said Han Kwon-hee, manager of the Missile Strategy Forum.
Earlier this month, North Korea conducted a flurry of launches, including an ICBM, which Seoul said at the time appeared to have failed.
Pyongyang also fired a short-range ballistic missile that crossed the de facto maritime border between the two countries and landed near the South’s territorial waters for the first time since the end of the Korean War in 1953.
President Yoon Suk-yeol said at the time that it was “effectively a territorial invasion”.
Both launches were part of a November 2 barrage in which Pyongyang fired 23 missiles—more than it launched during the entirety of 2017, the year of “fire and fury” when Kim traded barbs with then US president Donald Trump on Twitter and in state media.
Experts say North Korea is seizing the opportunity to conduct banned missile tests, confident of escaping further UN sanctions due to Ukraine-linked gridlock at the United Nations.
China, Pyongyang’s main diplomatic and economic ally, joined Russia in May in vetoing a US-led bid at the UN Security Council to tighten sanctions on North Korea.
Washington has responded to North Korea’s sanction-busting missile tests by extending exercises with South Korea and deploying a strategic bomber.
Pyongyang has also been under a self-imposed coronavirus blockage since early 2020, which experts say would limit the impact of any additional external sanctions.