THE UNITED NATIONS has condemned North Korea’s firing of a ballistic missile over Japan on Tuesday as “outrageous,” a move the North claims was a first step in military action in the Pacific to “contain” the US territory of Guam.
North Korea said the launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) was to counter United States and South Korean military drills. The UN Security Council demanded the North end its missile tests and called upon states to implement agreed-upon sanctions against North Korea, however stopped short of calling for new sanctions.
The North’s leader Kim Jong Un ordered the launch to be conducted for the first time from its capital, Pyongyang, and said more exercises with the Pacific as the target were needed, the North’s KCNA news agency said on Wednesday.
“The current ballistic rocket launching drill like a real war is the first step of the military operation of the KPA in the Pacific and a meaningful prelude to containing Guam,” KCNA quoted Kim as saying. The Korean People’s Army or KPA is the North’s military.
Kim was “very satisfied with the performance of the missile,” North Korean officials told CNN in Pyongyang.
Earlier this month, North Korea threatened to fire four missiles into the sea near Guam, home to a major US military presence, after President Donald Trump said the North would face “fire and fury” if it threatened the US.
— AFP news agency (@AFP) August 30, 2017
In a statement, the 15-member Security Council said it was of “vital importance” that North Korea take immediate, concrete actions to reduce tensions.
However, the US-drafted statement, which was agreed by consensus, does not threaten new sanctions on North Korea.
Diplomats say veto-wielding council members China and Russia typically only view a test of a long-range missile or a nuclear weapon as a trigger for further possible sanctions.
China and Russia’s ambassadors to the United Nations said they opposed any unilateral sanctions on North Korea and reiterated calls to halt deployment of a US missile defence system in South Korea.
“I certainly hope that we’ll be able to have a strong resolution following up this … statement,” Japan’s Ambassador to the United Nations Koro Bessho told reporters after the meeting.
All options on the table
Tuesday’s test involves the same Hwasong-12 missile Kim had threatened to use on Guam, but the test flight took it in another direction, over northern Japan’s Hokkaido and into the sea.
“The launch occurred in the vicinity of Sunan Air Base, North Korea and flew east … The ballistic missile overflew the territory of northern Japan before landing in the Pacific Ocean approximately 500 nautical miles east of Japan,” said a statement from the Pentagon.
Trump, who has vowed not to let North Korea develop nuclear missiles that can hit the mainland US, said the world had received North Korea’s latest message “loud and clear.”
“Threatening and destabilising actions only increase the North Korean regime’s isolation in the region and among all nations of the world. All options are on the table,” Trump said in a statement on Tuesday.
The Trump administration plans to name a former White House official, Victor Cha, as the next US ambassador to South Korea, according to an administration official.
Cha served as deputy head of the US delegation in multilateral talks with North Korea over its nuclear programme during the administration of President George W Bush.
The North’s latest test launch came as US and South Korean forces conducted annual military exercises on the Korean peninsula, angering Pyongyang which sees the war games as a preparation for invasion.
North Korea has conducted dozens of ballistic missile tests under Kim in defiance of UN sanctions, but firing a projectile over mainland Japan was a rare and provocative move.
John Blaxland, the Head of the Strategic and Defence Studies Centre at the Australian National University, told Triple M that “it was a threat not just to Japan, but to the United States.”
Reports of the launch by North Korean media were lacking the usual boasts of technical advances.
The missile, which flew 2,700 km before splashing down, was much shorter and at a lower trajectory than that of an earlier launch of the same missile type.
“It is not clear what new things North Korea would have learned from this launch that is relevant to a long-range missile,” missile expert David Wright of the Union of Concerned Scientists said.
North Korea's Rodong Sinmun today: technicolor missile extravaganza edition pic.twitter.com/RnRQeaQzHH
— Anna Fifield (@annafifield) August 30, 2017
The shorter range points to an intended early cutting of the engine thrust or a possible mechanical problem, as the trajectory taken would not have been useful in simulating re-entry or heating of the missile, Wright wrote in a blog post.
Kim Dong-yup, professor at the Institute for Far East Studies of Kyungnam University in Seoul said firing the missile from a densely populated area near Pyongyang and over Japan suggested North Korea was confident in the missile’s stability.
“I do not think North Korea factored in much military meaning behind yesterday’s missile launch, rather yesterday’s launch was all about North Korea being stubborn,” he said.
“At the same time, North Korea is hinting that there is room for negotiation if the US and South Korea ends the joint military exercises.”
Additional reporting by Reuters.