North Korea ‘threatens the entire world’, Tillerson says
US secretary of state condemns missile tests following Pyongyang’s latest launch
US secretary of state Rex Tillerson said on Friday that North Korea’s continuing missile tests threaten the entire world and stressed the US was working closely with regional allies Japan and South Korea on the problem.
“In east Asia, an increasingly aggressive and isolated regime in North Korea threatens democracies in South Korea, Japan, and more importantly, and more recently, has expanded those threats to the United States, endangering the entire world,” Mr Tillerson said to a gathering of the Community of Democracies.
“We first look to our regional allies South Korea and Japan. By working with them and other democratic partners, we continue to build consensus at the UN Security Council to create a united international front that upholds our values and strives to make us safer.”
Mr Tillerson was speaking after North Korea launched a missile that flew over Japan earlier on Friday, in the latest provocation by the nuclear power.
In an earlier statement, Mr Tillerson said: “These continued provocations only deepen North Korea’s diplomatic and economic isolation.”
He reiterated a call for China and Russia to take action against the rogue state, saying: “China supplies North Korea with most of its oil. Russia is the largest employer of North Korean forced labour.”
The missile flew over Japan and landed in the Pacific about 2,000km east of Hokkaido, Japanese chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters.
An alert was issued on Japanese television and via mobile phones, warning people to take shelter inside a building or underground.
Japan’s government strongly protested what it called Pyongyang’s latest intolerable provocation. The missile was launched at 6.57am Japan time (9.57pm Irish time).
US secretary of defence Jim Mattis said the launch “put millions of Japanese into duck and cover”, although residents in northern Japan appeared calm and went about their business as normal after the second such launch in less than a month.
The missile reached an altitude of about 770km and flew for about 19 minutes over a distance of about 3,700km, according to South Korea’s military - far enough to reach the US Pacific territory of Guam.
The launch comes just days after the UN agreed a new set of sanctions against the country in response to Pyongyang’s claim that it tested a hydrogen bomb 10 days ago.
US president Donald Trump said on Tuesday that sanctions against North Korea are “nothing compared to what ultimately will have to happen”, in his latest warning to Pyongyang.
Speaking alongside Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak following a meeting at the White House on Tuesday, Mr Trump also described the new sanctions as “a very small step”.
The UN Security Council agreed on the most stringent sanctions yet against North Korea on Monday evening, but stopped short of imposing the oil embargo that had been favoured by the US.
North Korea lashed out at the latest round of sanctions, vowing that the US will “suffer its greatest pain” for leading the push for the new measures.
The sanctions, which were agreed unanimously by the 15-member council, represent the latest incremental increase of economic pressure by the UN against North Korea in response to its heightened nuclear activity.
The new measures will target the country’s textile exports and will also cap the number of North Koreans who work abroad and repatriate money at the current level of 100,000.
The package of sanctions will reduce oil and fuel exports to the state by about one-third, but stops short of a full oil embargo.
Earlier this month Pyongyang announced that it had successfully tested its first hydrogen bomb and had successfully loaded the bomb onto a missile that had the capability of reaching the US.
The underground test marked the sixth nuclear test by North Korea.
Monday night’s ballot on a fresh set of sanctions followed a week of behind-the-scene negotiations as Security Council members sought to find a compromise ahead of the vote.
The North Korean threat is likely to dominate next week’s annual meeting of the UN General Assembly in New York, with the US president due to address the gathering next Tuesday.
Meanwhile, South Pacific island nations are scouring shipping records for vessels with links to North Korea after Fiji said it had identified 20 falsely flagged ships it suspects the isolated regime is using to evade United Nations sanctions.
Fiji, along with Interpol and the Singapore-based regional shipping regulator Tokyo MoU, are investigating the vessels for links to North Korea, a spokesman for the country’s Maritime Safety Authority (MSAF) said on Friday.
Interpol and Tokyo MoU did not immediately respond to requests for comment on their investigations.
The 18 members of the Pacific Islands Forum this month agreed to launch an audit of every ship registered in the Pacific to search for any links to North Korea.
New Zealand minister for foreign affairs Gerry Brownlee said Pacific countries, including his own, were concerned North Korea was using falsely flagged cargo ships as one avenue to trade goods in spite of sanctions.
“What we do know is that declared North Korean GDP (gross domestic product) is not big enough to support the nuclear programme that they’re running, so there has to be significant black market or offbook revenue going into the country,” Mr Brownlee told Reuters in a phone interview this week.
The UN’s new sanctions on North Korea include tightening up oversight of vessels on the high seas. Authorities will now be allowed to check suspect vessels for prohibited cargo with the authority of the flag country.
UN sanctions introduced in August banned North Korean exports of seafood as part of efforts to curtail the regime’s access to foreign funds. North Korea had been expected to earn an estimated $295 million from seafood in 2017, one UN diplomat said.
In Fiji’s case, the North Korean-linked ships had adopted the island nation’s flag without formally registering, the MSAF said.
It was not known in what way the possibly more than 20 vessels were linked to North Korea or what their suspected activities or locations were. The MSAF declined to provide details due to the ongoing investigation.
Additional reporting: Reuters, Bloomberg