North Korea fires rocket into Japanese waters ahead of G20

Trump: ‘N Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do?’

US President Donald Trump has said that the era of "strategic patience" with North Korea's government had ended. Video: The White House

 

North Korea claims to have conducted its first test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, a development that, if confirmed, could move the regime closer to being able to strike the US mainland and dramatically strengthen its hand in negotiations with Washington.

The claim contradicts earlier reports by the US military that the North had test-fired an intermediate-range weapon. Analysts said data suggested the missile had the range to strike Alaska but not other parts of the continental US.

In a rare announcement on state North Korean television, an emotional newsreader said Kim Jong-un had personally overseen the “landmark” test of a Hwasong-14 missile.

North Korea was now a “a strong nuclear power state” and had “a very powerful ICBM that can strike any place in the world,” the newsreader said.

She added that the missile had reached an altitude of 2,802km (1,741 miles) and flew 933km (580 miles) – longer and higher than any of the regime’s previous similar tests. Those figures roughly concurred with analysis by Japanese and South Korean officials.

US president Donald Trump broke off from American Independence Day celebrations to direct his Twitter fire at Kim Jong-un, mocking the North Korean leader for having “nothing better to do”, hours after the launch.

Mr Trump tweeted: “North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?”

He followed his jibe by speculating that China - North Korea’s closest ally and biggest economic partner - would “put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!”

Within range

He also suggested Japan and South Korea, which are already within range of North Korea’s conventional weapons, were running out of patience with their unpredictable neighbour.

While the apparent advancement in North Korea’s missile technology will add to concerns that the regime is moving closer to developing the capacity to strike the US mainland, many analysts still doubt whether it can miniaturise a nuclear weapon sufficiently to fit it on to a missile.

The launch is seen as an act of defiance before this week’s summit of the Group of 20 nations in Germany and it also coincides with the July 4th Independence Day celebrations, a time when North Korea often tries to provoke the ire of America.

Relations have been especially tense since the death of Otto Warmbier, a 22-year-old student who died after returning from 17 months as a prisoner in North Korea.

The Japanese government said the missile landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), adding it had strongly protested what it called a clear violation of UN resolutions.

The launch is the sixth such test since Moon Jae-in was named South Korean president on May 10th.

Mr Moon has just returned from a summit with Donald Trump at which they two leaders agreed to step up efforts to stop the North’s nuclear missile programme, while opening the door to dialogue.

Arms programme

Japan’s prime minister Shinzo Abe said he would ask the presidents of China and Russia at the G20 meeting in Hamburg on July 7th and 8th to play more constructive roles in efforts to stop the North’s arms programme.

“Leaders of the world will gather at the G20 meeting. I would like to strongly call for solidarity of the international community on the North Korean issue,” Mr Abe told reporters.

North Pyongan province, where the Banghyon air base is located, is near the border with China. Mr Trump has been critical of what he sees as Chinese inaction on dealing with the nuclear threat in North Korea, which says its aim is to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of reaching continental US.

South Korean news agency Yonhap said the flight trajectory of 930 kilometres may have been aimed at “ridiculing the South Korean president” after Mr Moon inspected the test-firing of Seoul’s new home-grown missile, the Hyunmoo-2C, which has a range of 800 kilometres.

South Korea’s military confirmed that North Korea had fired an “unidentified ballistic missile” into the Sea of Japan – known in North Korea as the East Sea of Korea – from Banghyon in North Pyongan, a province near its border with China.

The missile landed in Japan’s exclusive economic zone, the South Korean military and Japanese government said.

Tokyo strongly protested against what it called a clear violation of UN resolutions banning Pyongyang from developing ballistic missile technology.

The US Pacific Command said it detected and tracked the “single launch of a land-based, intermediate-range ballistic missile” for 37 minutes near an airfield in Panghyon, about 90kms miles north-west of Pyongyang.

On Monday China’s ambassador to the United Nations warned of “disastrous” consequences if world powers fail to find a way to ease tensions with North Korea that risked getting “out of control”.

“Currently tensions are high and we certainly would like to see a de-escalation,” Liu Jieyi told a news conference at UN headquarters, where China holds the security council presidency this month. “If tension only goes up … then sooner or later it will get out of control and the consequences would be disastrous.”

North Korea has increased the frequency of tests this year as it attempts to develop a missile capable of carrying a miniaturised nuclear warhead as far as the US mainland – a geopolitical game-changer that Mr Trump has vowed “won’t happen”.

Additional reporting agencies/Guardian