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Editorial: North Korea's missile launch over Japan heightens crisis in region

North Korea fired a ballistic missile over Japan on Oct. 4 for the first time in five years -- an act violating United Nations Security Council resolutions that heightens the crisis in Northeast Asia. It is absolutely unacceptable.

    It is believed that North Korea launched the missile in reaction to joint military exercises between the United States and South Korea that a U.S. military nuclear-powered aircraft carrier joined, as well as joint anti-submarine drills by Japan, the United States and South Korea. Since late last month, North Korea has conducted five launches in a little over a week.

    North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, general secretary of the Workers' Party of Korea, has reverted to a hard-line stance after failing to have sanctions lifted in direct talks with former U.S. President Donald Trump. During last year's party congress, he formulated a five-year national defense plan, and stepped up development of new weapons such as trajectory-shifting missiles, which are difficult to intercept.

    As part of these efforts, North Korea also resumed launches of medium- to long-range ballistic missiles this year for the first time in four years. Up until now, the flight distances of such missiles had been controlled by elevating the launch angle higher than normal, but this time, no such measures were taken. The missile flew some 4,600 kilometers, with North Korea flaunting its potential to attack the U.S. territory of Guam, which serves as a strategic base for the U.S. military.

    It appears North Korea intended to give the U.S., which is busy responding to Russia's invasion of Ukraine, a stronger jolt.

    Pyongyang has taken advantage of the Ukraine crisis and the confrontation between the United States and China, by approaching Beijing and Moscow. In May this year, a U.N. Security Council resolution that would have imposed sanctions on North Korea was vetoed by China and Russia.

    For Japan, this is a serious situation.

    It is necessary to inspect the government's response to ensure the safety of the people of Japan, including broadcasts via the J-Alert nationwide early warning system.

    Adjustment of defense capabilities to adapt to changes in the regional situation is another issue. Defense Minister Yasukazu Hamada stated, "We will consider the issue without eliminating any options, including counterstrike capabilities." But the situation calls for down-to-earth discussions that consider the effectiveness of deterrence and whether the measures are in line with Japan's defense-only policy.

    Japan, the United States and South Korea need to further strengthen their collaboration. There is an urgent need to rebuild the system of security cooperation between Japan and South Korea, which has been strained in recent years.

    China surely does not want the situation on the Korean Peninsula to grow unstable. Japan should call on China to urge North Korea to exercise restraint.

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