TOKYO – Japan kept its interceptor missiles at bay as North Korea's rocket flew over its main island on Sunday, but reacted with a strong protest, threats of sanctions and a call for an emergency meeting of the U.N. Security Council.
Tokyo, which had readied batteries of Patriot missiles and sea-to-air interceptors on two destroyers, did not fire them because no debris appeared to fall toward its territory, the Defense Ministry said.
Click to view photos | Satellite image of the launch area
FAST FACTS: A Glance at North Korea's Missile Arsenal.
Instead, Tokyo requested an emergency session of the Security Council to call for a stern response to the launch, Japan's U.N. spokesman Yutaka Arima said. The U.N. said it would meet Sunday afternoon in New York.
Japan has also threatened to add more bilateral sanctions onto those it imposed after a 2006 launch that failed.
The Defense Ministry detected a "flying object" believed to be the rocket that was launched from North Korea, flew eastward and passed over northern Japan about seven minutes later, heading toward the Pacific Ocean.
"Our primary concern is to confirm safety and gather information," Japanese Prime Minister Taro Aso told a news conference at his Tokyo office minutes after the launch.
Chief Cabinet spokesman Takeo Kawamura said it could not immediately be confirmed if a satellite was launched, as North Korea had claimed.
The U.S., South Korea and Japan believe the communist country is really testing long-range missile technology — a move they have warned would violate a 2006 U.N. Security Council resolution banning the North from ballistic activity. Russia and China have been less vocal in their opposition to the launch.
"Even if a satellite was launched, we see this as a ballistic missile test and we think this matter should be taken to the United Nations Security Council," Kawamura said. "We are highly concerned by this matter."
He said Japan, working closely with Washington and the U.N., was considering extending its existing sanctions on North Korea for another year. The sanctions limit trade and other exchanges. A security panel meeting was scheduled for later Sunday to discuss what further measures can be taken.
Analysts doubted whether further sanctions would help.
"It shows that the sanctions are simply not working," said Atsuhito Isozaki, assistant professor of North Korea politics at Keio University. "This will fuel a debate within Japan on whether a new course of action, beyond sanctions, is necessary."
Japan, which has no formal diplomatic relations with its former colony, is the most concerned of North Korea's neighbors because its islands lie within easy range of North Korea missiles, and because some 50,000 U.S. troops are based around Japan and could become targets in a war.
North Korea shocked Japan in 1998, when it launched a missile over Japan's main island. Japan has since spent billions of dollars on developing a missile shield with the United States and has launched a series of spy satellites primarily to watch developments in North Korea.