North Korea missile launch sparks confusion in Japan

A missile launch by North Korea sparked confusion in northern Japan, where an evacuation order was issued and then retracted within 30 minutes.

Sirens blared across Hokkaido and residents were told to “evacuate immediately” on Thursday morning.

Authorities said the missile did not land near the island and withdrew the alert.

Tensions have been growing in the region, as North Korea has already fired 27 missiles this year.

The missile is believed to be of medium or longer range, but details on what weapon was tested on Thursday morning have not yet been made public.

Japan, South Korea and the US have condemned the latest test.

Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said his government would hold a National Security Council meeting on the launch.

Meanwhile, Japanese coast guards said the missile had splashed into waters to the east of North Korea. Japan’s Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said he could not confirm whether the missile flew over Japan’s exclusive economic zone.

This latest launch came days after North Korean leader Kim Jong Un ordered his military to adopt a “more practical and offensive” manner in war deterrence, as reported by its state media agency KCNA.

For the past week, North Korea has not been answering twice-daily phone calls from South Korea, which has concerned the government in Seoul.

The two Koreas typically exchange calls at 09:00 and 15:00 local time (00:00 and 06:00 GMT) via a military hotline – these daily check-ins are intended to prevent clashes along the countries’ border.

Earlier this week, South Korea’s Unification Minister Kwon Young-se on Tuesday described the North’s suspension of communication as “unilateral and irresponsible”.

“Pyongyang’s provocations continue past its protest of US-South Korea defence exercises because Kim Jong-un hasn’t finished demonstrating his nuclear delivery capabilities yet,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul,

“However, with the North Koreans literally not answering the phone, the lack of hotlines and diplomacy increases the risk of unintended escalation,” he said.

This is an important week for North Korea as it celebrates Mr Kim’s 11th year in power – the country tends to mark these anniversaries with displays of military progress.

North Korea has been working to increase its nuclear arsenal and build ever-more sophisticated weapons. It has also criticised joint military exercises between the US and South Korea, accusing them of escalating tensions.

The latest missile launch also comes two days before the birthday of North Korea’s founding leader Kim Il Sung – the biggest annual holiday on the country’s calendar.