North Korea Missile Launch Triggers Brief Evacuation Order in Japan's Hokkaido

The launch of a suspected North Korean missile prompted a since-lifted evacuation order in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido early on Thursday.

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The launch of a North Korean missile sparked a since-lifted evacuation order in Japan’s northern island of Hokkaido on Thursday, CNN reports.

Early on Thursday morning, millions of people received a J-alert urging them to seek shelter from the then-incoming missile. Shortly after, the evacuation order was lifted and some local officials indicated there was no threat of the missile hitting Hokkaido, the most northern of Japan’s four main islands and home to the country’s fifth most populated city, Sapporo. The missile later fell into waters on the eastern coast of the Korean Peninsula, which is outside of Japanese territory.

Officials indicated they had “erroneously” predicted the missile could fall near Hokkaido. Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno admitted the government “did not correct the information issued by the J-Alert,” but defended the “appropriate” decision to issue the evacuation order. He added that the missile disappeared from Japan’s radar shortly after detection. “The J-Alert warning was issued to inform citizens of the danger of a falling missile to prioritize citizens’ safety,” Matsuno said.

According to South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff, the missile appeared to be a test of a mid or long-range ballistic missile, launched near Pyongyang. The launch was described as a “significant act of provocation.” In a statement, the White House “strongly condemns” the test, which National Security Council spokesperson Adrienne Watson called a “brazen violation of multiple UN Security Council resolutions” that “needlessly raises tensions and risks destabilizing the security situation in the region.” 

Japanese and South Korean authorities are continuing to assess the situation, but it has been suggested the launch could have been a long-range intercontinental ballistic missile. “North Korea’s series of actions, including its repeated launches of ballistic missiles, is a threat to Japan, the region, and the world,” Matsuno said.

Japan has previously had issues with its J-Alert system. As recently as October, an evacuation order was issued when a missile flew over the country, but most people only received it by the time it had fallen into the Pacific. Another warning was issued a month later, which incorrectly suggested another missile had flown over Japan.

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