North Korea fires ballistic missile that lands in Japanese waters

National security meeting called in response by South Korea’s president Moon Jae-in

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe speaks to reporters about North Korea’s missile launch. Photograph: Kyodo/Reuters

Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe speaks to reporters about North Korea’s missile launch. Photograph: Kyodo/Reuters

 

North Korea test-fired its second intercontinental missile (ICBM) within a month on Friday, a provocation that heightens pressure on the US and China to find ways to reign in Kim Jong Un’s nuclear ambitions.

The Pentagon’s assessment is the projectile is another ICBM, spokesman Capt Jeff Davis said in a statement. It travelled about 1,000km, he said.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said the missile, which was launched late on Friday night, flew for about 45 minutes and landed in the country’s exclusive economic zone. South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said it reached an altitude of about 3,700km, which is nearly 1,000km higher than it achieved in the previous test on July 4th.

South Korean president Moon Jae-in called a national security council meeting, while the White House said US president Donald Trump had been briefed.

“Following on from the launch of the previous ICBM-class missile, these actions show that North Korea poses a great and real threat to the security of our nation,” Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe said in remarks carried on local television.

The launches bring Mr Kim’s isolated regime closer to its aim of acquiring a device capable of hitting the continental US with a nuclear warhead. US secretary of state Rex Tillerson called the July 4th test a “new escalation of the threat” to the US, though South Korea cast doubt on whether it had acquired the necessary re-entry capability.

The July 4th missile reached an altitude of 2,800km and flew for 39 minutes, with North Korea saying it was a new type of missile called a Hwasong-14.

The South Korean agency Yonhap reported that Friday’s test was the first time North Korea had launched a missile from Jagang, a province north of Pyongyang that shares a border with China. It said the unusual late-night firing was aimed at showing the world that it can conduct launches at anytime, and anywhere.

In a new assessment, US officials warned North Korea would be able to launch a nuclear-capable ICBM as early as next year, the Washington Post reported this week.

Nuclear ambitions

Mr Trump has said all options including military force are available to combat the North Korean threat. After the July 4th ICBM test he said he was weighing some “pretty severe things” in response. Mr Trump has also shown signs of increased frustration at the pace of China’s efforts to rein in its neighbour and ally. China is Pyongyang’s main economic lifeline.

Beijing has been cautious about squeezing Mr Kim too hard given concern it could spark a messy collapse of his regime and a refugee crisis on China’s border. It also worries that such a development could lead to a beefed-up US military presence in the area.

At the Group of 20 summit in Hamburg earlier this month, meetings between Mr Trump and the leaders of South Korea, Japan and China ended without a clear consensus about how to curtail North Korea’s nuclear ambitions. So far there have not been fresh United Nations Security Council sanctions, though individual countries have announced new penalties.

“Pyongyang has once again made it clear that they are operating on their own timetable,” said Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS in Honolulu.

“My guess – and when it comes to North Korea we’re all guessing – is that they are waiting for the next sanctions resolution, which they will then say ‘forces’ them to accelerate their program and we will finally have our much-anticipated next nuclear test,” he said.

Mr Kim has conducted a series of tests since Mr Moon became South Korea’s president in May, complicating Mr Moon’s ambitions to engage with Pyongyang. The new leader said in a Berlin speech that he was willing, under the right circumstances, to meet Mr Kim “anytime, anywhere”.

North Korea has yet to respond to an offer by Mr Moon to seek a deal in 2020 to bring about the”complete denuclearisation” of the nation in return for a peace treaty that would guarantee the survival of Mr Kim’s regime.

It has also not responded to Mr Moon’s other proposals this month for military talks and meetings of Red Cross officials to consider resuming reunions of families separated during the Korean War.

Bloomberg