North Korea missile test sends shudders through region

Launch of ballistic weapon could put relations with ally Beijing under more pressure

South Koreans watch a television displaying news broadcasts reporting on North Korea’s recent ballistic missile launch, at a station in Seoul. Photograph: EPA

South Koreans watch a television displaying news broadcasts reporting on North Korea’s recent ballistic missile launch, at a station in Seoul. Photograph: EPA

North Korea has tested a ballistic missile in defiance of calls to rein in its weapons programme, days after the inauguration of a new leader in South Korea and coinciding with a major international summit in Beijing hosted by ally China.

Pyongyang’s test launch of a long-range missile appears to have deeply upset nearly everyone with a stake in the nuclear stand-off, including ally Beijing, arch-rival Seoul, an increasingly belligerent Washington, long-time adversary Tokyo and former friend Moscow.

North Korea launched a ballistic missile at 5.27am local time from a site near Kusong, Pyongan province, 100km north of Pyongyang, near the country’s border with China, South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said in a statement.

The missile flew a distance of 700km over half an hour before it fell into the sea between the eastern coast of North Korea and Japan.

The launch is particularly provocative as it comes on the day that North Korea’s main ally China hosts 30 world leaders and envoys from 100 countries at its One Belt, One Road summit in Beijing to discuss a New Silk Road infrastructure plan to extend China’s influence.

Grave challenge

The missile launch was the first since the inauguration as president in South Korea of Moon Jae-in, a liberal who favours dialogue with the North. Mr Moon called the launch a “grave challenge” to the peace and security of the Korean peninsula and the international community.

The move has also prompted angry responses from Washington. The White House said: “With the missile impacting so close to Russian soil – in fact, closer to Russia than to Japan – the President cannot imagine that Russia is pleased.”

North Korea has made no secret of its plan to develop an intercontinental missile capable of transporting a nuclear warhead as far as the United States.

Sunday’s launch flew further and higher than an intermediate-range missile North Korea successfully tested in February from the same area.

Japanese defence minister Tomomi Inada said the missile could be of a new type.

Mr Trump has vowed not to let North Korea achieve its goal of a long-range ICBM and has stepped up pressure on the secretive state to abandon its nuclear plans, trying to leverage its trade influence to get more help from China.

Complex

However, China was also concerned about the launch. The foreign ministry said in a statement to the Associated Press that the situation on the Korean peninsula was “complex and sensitive”.

Spokeswoman Hua Chunying said countries “should not do things that further escalate tensions in the region”.

Mr Trump is expected to meet his South Korean counterpart as early as next month to co-ordinate an approach toward North Korea and its leader Kim Jong-un.

“Even if dialogue is possible, we should show to North Korea that it’s possible only in case of North Korea changing its attitude,” Mr Moon said during a special session of the National Security Council at the presidential compound Cheong Wa Dae or Blue House.

 

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