North Korean missile test keeps tensions raised
Medium-range missile exploded seconds after launch, but Pyongyang’s act of defiance could lead to further US pressure on China, observers say
Tensions on the Korean peninsula were heightened on Sunday when Pyongyang tested a missile, which exploded soon after its launch but which analysts say could put further pressure on China.
The failed launch from North Korea’s east coast came a day after North Korea held a grand military parade, and hours before US Vice-President Mike Pence’s arrival in South Korea.
Top Chinese diplomat Yang Jiechi and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson talked on the phone after the launch, Xinhua reported. Yang said the two sides should continue dialogue to put Sino-US relations on track, Xinhua said, but gave no details of their discussions on North Korea.
Pence said the launch had underscored the risks facing the region. US National Security Adviser General H.R. McMaster said Pyongyang’s “threatening behaviour” could not go on.
But a US foreign policy adviser travelling with Pence appeared less concerned, saying the test of what was believed to be a medium-range missile had been expected and that it exploded seconds after its launch.
“It follows another failed test. So really no need to reinforce their failure,” the adviser said, on condition of anonymity.
Pyongyang launched a missile earlier this month, ahead of the summit between President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump.
In a tweet on Sunday, Trump said Beijing was working with the US on the North Korean issue.
“Why would I call China a currency manipulator when they are working with us on the North Korean programme? We will see what happens!" he wrote, referring to a US Treasury Department decision last week to keep China on its foreign-exchange watch list.
Lu Chao, director of the Border Studies Institute at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said the latest missile test, despite its failure, could be a message from Pyongyang that it would not change its tough stance in the face of US threats of military action.
The move was likely to draw even more pressure from the US, which had ordered two aircraft carrier groups to the region, Lu said.
“China would also face greater pressure from the US to take further action, including ratcheting up its sanctions against Pyongyang,” he added.
South Korea’s foreign ministry said the North’s military parade on Saturday and its latest missile test were a “show of force that threatens the whole world”.
The North Korean crisis has caught Beijing in a tricky dilemma.It is under American pressure to contain Pyongyang, but fears that drastic action might lead to the collapse of its neighbour.
Trump has repeatedly vowed to take tough action against Pyongyang, but has admitted he was mistaken about Beijing’s ability to rein in its neighbour, saying he changed his perceptions during his meeting with Xi.
The US foreign policy adviser said Xi and Trump had discussed “a number of steps” concerning Pyongyang, and that Beijing had already taken action, citing the turning back of a coal ship from North Korea.
On Saturday, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said that there would be no winner in a war between the United States and North Korea.
Liu Ming, from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said Beijing was unlikely to take further action at this stage unless Pyongyang carried out a new nuclear or long-range missile test.
Li Lifan, a Russian affairs expert from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said Beijing and Moscow were preparing scenarios for confrontations over Pyongyang.
“Both sides may have taken measures to respond to any possible conflicts on the Korean Peninsula, though the possibility of military conflicts remains low,” he said.
Additional reporting by Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France-Presse