North Korean Missile Launch Triggers Evacuation in Japan

North Korea launched a ballistic missile Thursday morning that sparked fear in Japan after the government’s emergency alert system warned citizens to evacuate. Millions of citizens received a J-alert, or evacuation order, around 8 a.m. to seek shelter as the projectile was expected to fall on or close to the northern island of Hokkaido. 

The order was retracted shortly after as it had “erroneously” predicted the missile would fall near the island. Fear amongst citizens turned to anger and confusion, with local authorities saying there was no possibility of the missile entering Japanese territory. It was confirmed later that the missile had fallen in the waters off the east coast of the Korean peninsula.

Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno stood his ground defending the government’s response saying the alert was “appropriate” given the limited information available at the time.

“The J-alert warning was issued to inform citizens of the danger of a falling missile to prioritize citizens’ safety,” Matsuno said.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missile was launched from the North Korean capital of Pyongyang. The South’s military believed it was a new type of ballistic missile, possibly using solid fuel.

If the launch involved a solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), it would be the North’s first test of such a weapon, according to the Guardian. Liquid fuel must be injected before the weapon is launched, but solid-propellant weapons are more difficult to detect because the fuel is already loaded inside. Essentially, the missile can be launched more quickly and move around more easily.

Yasukazu Hamada, Japanese Defense Minister, told reporters the missile was launched at a high angle but did not reach Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

In October of last year, Japan issued a similar evacuation when a North Korean intermediate-range missile flew over the country that demonstrated the potential to reach the US Pacific territory of Guam. 

Chief Cabinet Secretary Matsuno says Thursday’s launch is “an outrageous act that escalates provocations against the entire international community.”

“North Korea’s series of actions, including its repeated launches of ballistic missiles, is a threat to Japan, the region, and the world,” he said. 

South Korea’s Joint Chief of Staff urged Pyongyang to stop and reiterated that the launches were in violation of the UN Security Council Resolutions.

Thursday’s launch marked the 12th day this year when North Korea has fired at least one missile. 


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