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The Geopolitical backdrop in East Asia is simmering between North Korea and Japan with Pyongyang intensifying its hard power military projection, leading Tokyo and its allies to enhance their deterrence.
On Oct. 4, at around 7.22 a.m. Japanese time, North Korea launched an intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM), which crossed over northern Japan for the first time in five years. Japanese authorities issued evacuation alerts and halted trains across Hokkaido and Aomori regions.
The ballistic missile launch is North Korea’s most significant demonstration of power projection to date. Never before has a North Korean missile flown anywhere near as high and as far. The missile flew 4,500-4600 km at a maximum altitude of 970-1,000 km before falling into the Pacific Ocean, outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
This is the latest episode of military demonstration in a cycle of escalation in the region in recent months. On Sep. 23, a U.S. aircraft carrier made a stopover in South Korea for the first time since 2018. The exercises have long antagonized North Korean President Kim Jong-un, who has regularly chastised these drills for enduring tensions.
Immediately following North Korea’s latest launch, U.S. and South Korean fighter jets conducted a precision strike exercise around the Yellow Sea. About four South Korean Air Force F-15Ks and four U.S. Air Force F-16s released two precision bombs on a virtual target on the uninhabited island of Jukdo in the Yellow Sea. The U.S. and Japanese fighter jets also accelerated joint drills over the Sea of Japan.
On the diplomatic front, the U.S. convened an emergency session of the UN Security Council on managing North Korea’s latest ballistic missile launch. Opposition from China and Russia meant that the Security Council was unable to adopt any new measures.
Strengthened by the support of its authoritarian allies, Pyongyang has since conducted two more short-range missile tests from its territory, all landing outside Japanese waters: the seventh such test by the regime in recent days.
South Korean intelligence fears that North Korea may get ready to test another nuclear weapon; this course of action would mark a major security juncture.
Is it too late to bring the North Korean leader back to the negotiating table?