Tokyo condemned the launch of a North Korean rocket Sunday that apparently flew over Okinawa Prefecture and was widely viewed as a ballistic missile test in disguise.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe addressed reporters immediately after the rocket was launched from North Korea’s western coast at around 9:31 a.m.
“North Korea’s act of pressing on with the missile launch despite (our) repeated warnings to exercise self-restraint is totally unacceptable,” Abe said at his office. He condemned the firing and slammed it as a clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said it appeared that no debris from the rocket, which Tokyo said separated into five pieces while flying south, landed in Japanese territory.
“Following the (Jan. 6) nuclear weapons test, this is a clear violation of U.N. resolutions,” he added.
The first, second and third parts fell into areas projected earlier by North Korea. But the fourth landed outside the designated area, the government said. This could indicate that it partially failed.
The U.S. Strategic Command, however, said it detected a rocket entering space.
The South Korean military meanwhile said the launch had put an object into orbit, Reuters reported. These reports appeared to contradict earlier media reports pointing to a failure.
At 12:30 p.m. Sunday, North Korean state-run TV aired a special program trumpeting Pyongyang’s “successful” bid to put a satellite into orbit, adding that it would continue to launch satellites.
Both Suga and Defense Minister Gen Nakatani declined to comment on whether the test was a success, saying more time was needed to analyze the data.
Nakatani said he “would not rule out” the possibility of more provocative actions by the North, including the firing of other types of ballistic missiles.
Hideshi Takesada, a professor of the graduate school at Takushoku University in Tokyo, said North Korea’s technology has advanced further since a similar launch in December 2012.
“Their missile seems bigger than the last one,” Takesada said. “More powerful fuel is needed to launch a bigger missile. In that sense, I would say North Korea has advanced its missile technology.”
Japan deployed three of its six Aegis-equipped destroyers to monitor the launch in case their advanced defense systems were needed.
In Okinawa, Tokyo, and some areas surrounding the capital, Patriot PAC-3 interceptor units were deployed in a symbolic gesture to show Japan’s determination to defend its territory.
According to Tokyo, after the launch at around 9:31 a.m., the first part fell into an area of the Yellow Sea about 150 km west of the Korean Peninsula around 9:37 a.m.
Another two pieces landed in the East China Sea about 250 km southwest of the peninsula around 9:39 a.m., the government said.
The fourth part went over Okinawa Prefecture around 9:41 a.m. and later fell in the Pacific Ocean about 2,000 km south of Japanese territory, while the fifth part went over Okinawa at around 9:39 a.m. and continued south, the government said.
Nakatani said at a news conference that the missile may be the same type test-fired by Pyongyang in December 2012, given the similarity of its course and impact points.
In that test, the North fired a variant of its Taepodong-2 long-range ballistic missile, the ministry said.
Pyongyang had said it planned to launch an “earth observation satellite” into orbit, though Japan, the U.S. and South Korea have all said they regard the launch as a covert long-range ballistic missile test.
Rockets used for satellite launches employ technology similar to that for ballistic missiles.
Sunday’s launch drew further condemnation from Washington and Seoul, and many other nations were likely to join the chorus of calls for a tougher U.N. resolution that would impose even stricter sanctions on Pyongyang.
Responding to a joint request from the three allies, the Security Council was set to hold an emergency session at 11 a.m. Sunday in New York (1 a.m. Monday Japan time).But given the reported reluctance by Beijing to take a tougher stance against Pyongyang during earlier talks with Washington, the effectiveness of more muscular sanctions still remains to be seen.
The U.S. is currently working on a draft U.N. resolution to punish the North for a nuclear test on Jan. 6 that it claimed was a hydrogen bomb.
But Japanese officials say Beijing, Pyongyang’s main economic and military ally, is reluctant to support a U.N. resolution for tougher sanctions over its fourth atomic test. China regards North Korea as a buffer zone with South Korea, which hosts a large continent of U.S. troops.
The North is already under heavy sanctions from both Japan and the U.N., but on Sunday, Abe told his staff to prepare further economic sanctions that are separate from any so far proposed by the U.N. Security Council.
This will likely make it even more difficult for Tokyo to resume the stalled talks on the abduction issue. Abe is keen to get Pyongyang to reveal what happened to the rest of the Japanese who were abducted by North Korean spies in the 1970s and 80s.
The bizarre and tragic stories of the abductees and their families has left the public clambering for answers, and Abe has continually stressed that resolving the issue remains a top diplomatic priority.