The rocket launched Wednesday morning by North Korea blasted off from the same pad in the country’s northwest where work was reportedly done the previous day to remove the rocket, Defense Minister Satoshi Morimoto said.
He told a news conference at the Defense Ministry that the rocket was “ready to be launched” Wednesday after “various changes in circumstances occurred to the launchpad” following the reported work.
Now that the rocket has been launched, Self-Defense Forces units deployed in preparation for the launch will be withdrawn as swiftly as possible, Morimoto said, adding that the SDF was continuing efforts to determine whether the launch caused any damage on Japanese territory.
The rocket passed over Okinawa about 12 minutes after liftoff, according to the ministry.
Aegis ships and Patriot missile batteries that had been moved into position ahead of the launch did not attempt to shoot it down, officials said.
Morimoto said the government confirmed that the rocket had at one stage been removed from the launchpad. But the situation changed to make it possible to go ahead with the launch, he said.
“There was a difference between yesterday’s South Korean media reports and the actual situation today,” he said.
Asked if there was a possibility that the rocket was launched from a different pad, Morimoto said, “Based on certain intelligence resources, there is no such possibility,” though he would not give further details.
Morimoto added that if the rocket launched Wednesday was the same model as the one unsuccessfully launched in April, “We have no choice but to determine that (North Korea’s) missile technology has definitely made progress.
“That will bring security problems to not just Japan but other neighboring countries,” he said. “Therefore, we need to constantly ensure our missile defense system is at a high level of readiness.”
Reaction of Nakaima
Okinawa Gov. Hirokazu Nakaima expressed surprise and relief Wednesday at news that North Korea had launched a rocket that flew over the prefecture.
At the Okinawa Prefectural Office, a nationwide warning system reported the rocket’s flight path over the prefecture shortly after 10 a.m., after the rocket reportedly blasted off from North Korea around 9:49 a.m.
After all municipal governments in the prefecture reported no damage from the rocket or debris, Nakaima voiced his relief.
North Korea initially announced the rocket plan Dec. 1, giving a 13-day window up to Dec. 22 for the launch. Shortly after the announcement, the Defense Agency deployed Patriot Advanced Capability-3 missiles to four locations in the prefecture to destroy any rocket debris falling onto Japanese territory, but no missiles were fired Wednesday.
Abe urges U.N. sanctions
Shinzo Abe, leader of the Liberal Democratic Party, called Wednesday for U.N. action following North Korea’s rocket launch.
“Japan should work together with the international community to adopt a new resolution at the United Nations to strongly condemn North Korea,” Abe said during a campaign speech in Nagasaki Prefecture.
“The rocket launch was outrageous,” he added. “The international community needs to impose harsh sanctions.”
Opinion polls point to the LDP leading other parties ahead of Sunday’s Lower House election, indicating Abe may again become the prime minister.