North Korea launches ballistic missile into sea ahead of Xi-Trump summit

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2017, 8:08am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 05 April, 2017, 12:08pm

North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the waters off its east coast on Wednesday morning, ahead of the first meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Donald Trump.

The launch, the latest in a series of such tests as Pyongyang angrily reacts to annual military drills between US and South Korean troops, drew a “strong protest” from nearby Japan.

The missile fired from the North’s eastern coastal town of Sinpo on Wednesday morning flew about 60km, Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. It gave no further details like exactly what type of missile the North launched.

But the US military confirmed the launch had occurred, and identified the missile as a KN-15 medium-range ballistic missile.

The launch was “extremely problematic”, and Japan had lodged a strong protest over its nuclear-armed neighbour, Japan’s top government spokesman said.

Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that Japan absolutely can not tolerate North Korea’s repeated provocative actions.

It may be time for the US to clip North Korea’s wings

The missile’s flight was relatively short compared with the distances other North Korean missiles have flown. Two weeks ago, the South Korean and US militaries said they detected what they called a failed North Korean ballistic missile launch. But earlier in March, North Korea fired four ballistic missiles that flew about 1,000km, with three of them landing in waters that Japan claims as its exclusive economic zone.

The firing was made as South Korean and US troops were conducting their springtime drills that the North views as an invasion rehearsal. The allies say the drills set to run until the end of this month are defensive in nature.

North Korea often responds to the drills with its own military training and harsh rhetoric.

North Korea is pushing hard to upgrade its weapons systems to cope with what it calls US hostility. Many weapons experts say the North could have a functioning nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the continental US within a few years. North Korea carried out two nuclear tests last year.

The launch came ahead of a key US visit by Chinese President Xi, after Trump said the United States was prepared to go it alone in bringing Pyongyang to heel if China did not step in.

“US Pacific Command is fully committed to working closely with our Republic of Korea and Japanese allies to maintain security,” the military command in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region said on Wednesday.

“The North American Aerospace Defence Command (Norad) determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America.”

PACOM said it determined the launch of the KN-15 medium-range ballistic missile took place at 11.42 am (2142 GMT), landing in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) at 11.51 am, in line with findings by the South Korean defence ministry.

Additional reporting by Agence France-Presse and Reuters