North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan’s northern Hokkaido island into the sea on Tuesday, prompting President Donald Trump to warn “all options are on the table” as the United States considers its response. 

The test, one of the most provocative ever from the reclusive state, came as U.S. and South Korean forces conduct annual military exercises on the peninsula, angering North Korea, which sees them as a preparation for invasion. 

North Korea has conducted dozens of ballistic missile tests under leader Kim Jong-un — the most recent on Saturday, in defiance of UN sanctions — but firing projectiles over mainland Japan is rare. 

Trump said the world had received North Korea’s latest message “loud and clear.”

NORTHKOREA-MISSILES/JAPAN

A woman walks past a large TV screen in Tokyo that shows news about North Korea’s missile launch on Tuesday. (Kim Kyung-hoon/Reuters)

“This regime has signalled its contempt for its neighbours, for all members of the United Nations and for minimum standards of acceptable international behaviour,” Trump said in a  statement released by the White House. 

“Threatening and destabilizing actions only increase the North Korean regime’s isolation in the region and among all 
nations of the world. All options are on the table.” 

Trump spoke with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, and the two agreed that North Korea “poses a grave and growing direct threat” to the United States, Japan and South Korea, “as well as to countries around the world,” the White House said. 

Trump and Abe “committed to increasing pressure on North Korea, and doing their utmost to convince the international community to do the same,” the statement said. 

The launch was to be the subject of a UN Security Council meeting later in the day. 

‘Critical juncture’

North Korean Ambassador Han Tae Song told the session the United States was driving the Korean peninsula “towards an extreme level of explosion” by deploying strategic assets and conducting nuclear war drills. 

In China, North Korea’s lone major ally, Foreign Ministry spokesperson Hua Chunying said the crisis was “approaching a critical juncture,” but it was also maybe a turning point to open the door to peace talks. 

Russia insisted North Korea abide by UN Security Council resolutions. 

“Regarding the launching of the missiles from North Korea, we stick to the resolutions of the United Nations and we insist on the fact that the North Koreans must respect those resolutions from the United Nations,” Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov told a news conference on a visit to the United Arab Emirates, according to a translation of his remarks. 

South Korea’s military said the missile was launched from near the North Korean capital, Pyongyang, just before 6 a.m. local time and flew 2,700 kilometres, reaching an altitude of about 550 kilometres. 

Four South Korean fighter jets bombed a military firing range on Tuesday after President Moon Jae-in asked the military
to demonstrate capabilities to counter North Korea. 

North Korea defiant

North Korea remained defiant. 

“The U.S. should know that it can neither browbeat the DPRK with any economic sanctions and military threats and blackmail, nor make the DPRK flinch from the road chosen by itself,” North Korean official Rodong Sinmun said, using the initials of the North’s official name, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.       

This month, the 15-member UN Security Council unanimously imposed new sanctions on North Korea in response to two long-range missile launches in July. 

The United States has said before all options, including military, are on the table, although its preference is for a diplomatic solution. 

Some experts said Kim was trying to pressure Washington to the negotiating table with the latest tests. 

N Korea missile map

Map locating track of missile fired by North Korea on Tuesday. (Reuters)

“[North Korea] thinks that by exhibiting their capability, the path to dialogue will open,” Masao Okonogi, professor emeritus at Japan’s Keio University, said by phone from Seoul. 

“That logic, however, is not understood by the rest of the world, so it’s not easy.” 

The Japanese military did not attempt to shoot down the missile, which may have broken into three pieces, said Minister 
of Defence Itsunori Onodera. 

Experts say defences in Japan and South Korea that are designed to hit incoming missiles would struggle to bring down a missile flying high overhead. 

The United States and South Korea are technically still at war with the North because their 1950-53 conflict ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. The North says it will never give up its weapons programs, saying they are necessary to counter hostility from the United States and its allies.

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