Japan Is On High Alert After North Korea Missile Launch

Aug 29, 2017
Originally published on August 29, 2017 8:16 am
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Japan is on high alert today after North Korea launched another missile, this time over the northern island of Hokkaido. This isn't the first projectile they've sent over Japan. In 2009, North Korea sent a rocket it claims was carrying a communications satellite into orbit. For more on all of this, we have NPR's Asia Correspondent Elise Hu on the line from Seoul, South Korea.

Hey, Elise.

ELISE HU, BYLINE: Hey. Good morning.

CHANG: Good morning. First can you just start out by telling us, what do we know about this latest launch by North Korea?

HU: Sure. So North Korea launched this missile from near its capital of Pyongyang, and it landed near Hokkaido, Japan's northern region in the Pacific. Analysts believe this was an intermediate range Hwasong-12 missile. It flew about 1,700 miles before crash-landing there in the Pacific, and Japan's military tracked this missile after it took off. So local governments in Japan early this morning actually had to send out an alert to people living in Hokkaido and 11 other prefectures. Those residents were awakened with sirens and a rather unsettling message that read, quote, "Missile alert. Missile alert. You are advised to seek shelter in a sturdy building or go underground." So not a great way to wake up for some of these Japanese this morning.

CHANG: I can't even imagine. I mean, North Korea has been upping the ante throughout this year. We saw two intercontinental ballistic missiles in July. They just tested three short-range ballistic missiles over the weekend. How are both Japan and South Korea reacting to this latest test?

HU: Japanese leaders are not happy. Shinzo Abe, the prime minister there, called it an outrageous action and a grave and unprecedented threat to the security of the country. South Korean analysts say that this test was intended to show how North Korean missiles could reach Guam if they wanted and if they actually had flown this missile south rather than northeast.

So in response, South Korea's military conducted a show of force already, dropping bombs from its fighter jets at a military base and then also rhetorically called for a show of its U.S. strategic assets that are here in South Korea. These latest tests come just as the U.S. and South Korea are continuing the annual joint military exercises that happen each August. This always irritates North Korea, which sees these drills as a practice for invasion.

So I called up Sue Mi Terry. She's a former CIA analyst who has negotiated with North Korea in back-channel talks. She says that this was a perfect test launch for North Korea to put the U.S. in a bind.

SUE MI TERRY: Kim Jong-un thought this through and he came up with a perfect solution - more than normal provocation and less than a provocation that's war some sort of military action.

CHANG: So what now? What are the next moves for policymakers in the region?

HU: South Korea, whose president has actually been trying to return to diplomacy, trying to return to talks with North Korea, is kind of going the opposite direction rhetorically in the wake of this test and considering some military options in case North Korea ups the ante further. In Japan, there's more preparing of civil defenses, and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and President Donald Trump did speak by phone following this test. And according to Japanese media, President Trump said the U.S. had a strong commitment to Japan's security. But where things go from here is still as complicated as it ever was. There are no pat solutions.

CHANG: All right. That's NPR's Elise Hu talking to us from Seoul, South Korea. Thank you as always, Elise.

HU: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.