North Korea fails in another ballistic missile test, hours after China warns UN meeting that military action would lead to ‘bigger disasters’
Trump says North Korea missile launch ‘disrespected’ China
North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile Saturday in apparent defiance of a concerted US push for tougher international sanctions to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons ambitions.
The latest launch, which South Korea said was a failure, came just hours after US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson warned the UN Security Council of “catastrophic consequences” if the international community - most notably China - failed to pressure the North into abandoning its weapons programme.
Military options for dealing with the North were still “on the table”, Tillerson warned in his first address to the UN body.
It was likely a medium-range KN-17 ballistic missile, the Associated Press reported, citing an unidentified US official.
Analysts say the KN-17 is a new Scud-type missile developed by North Korea. The North fired the same type of missile April 16, just a day after a massive military parade where it showed off its expanding missile arsenal, but US officials called that launch a failure.
Some analysts say a missile the North test fired April 5, which US officials identified as a Scud variant, also might have been a KN-17. US officials said that missile spun out of control and crashed into the sea.
The launch ratchets up tensions on the Korean peninsula, with Washington and Pyongyang locked in an ever-tighter spiral of threat, counter-threat, and escalating military preparedness.
US President Donald Trump, who has warned of a “major conflict” with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s regime, said the latest test was a pointed snub to China - the North’s main ally and economic lifeline.
“North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!” Trump tweeted.
Saturday’s launch marked the 75th missile test since Kim Jong-un became leader of North Korea at the end of 2011, according to a Nuclear Threat Initiative database.
The US is deploying a naval strike group led by an aircraft carrier to the Korean peninsula, and a missile-defence system called Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) that officials say will be operational “within days”.
North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 28, 2017
North Korea recently conducted its biggest-ever firing drill and has threatened to “bury at sea” the US aircraft carrier, and there are signs it could be preparing for a sixth nuclear test.
South Korea’s defence ministry said it suspected Saturday’s missile test had failed after a brief flight, while the US military’s Pacific Command confirmed the rocket did not leave North Korean territory.
Japan’s government spokesman says the missile launched by North Korea is believed to have travelled about 50 kilometres and fallen on an inland part of the country.
China pushed back at Tillerson’s call at the UN Security Council for it to do more to rein in Pyongyang, arguing that it was unrealistic to expect one country to solve the conflict.
“The use of force does not solve differences and will only lead to bigger disasters,” Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said.
His country, he said, should not be “a focal point of the problem on the peninsula” and stressed that “the key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of the Chinese side”.
Russia joined China in saying a military response would be disastrous and appealing for a return to talks and de-escalation.
Watch: Tillerson says all options on table with North Korea
Military action was “completely unacceptable”, Russian Deputy Foreign Minister Gennady Gatilov told the council, and a miscalculation could have “frightening consequences”.
But Tillerson argued that diplomacy had to be backed with credible muscle.
“Diplomatic and financial levers of power will be backed up by willingness to counteract North Korean aggression with military action, if necessary,” he said.
“The threat of a North Korean nuclear attack on Seoul or Tokyo is real, and it is likely only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the US mainland.”
The meeting of the top UN body on Friday laid bare major differences among key powers over the way to address the North Korea crisis.
Over the past 11 years, the Security Council has imposed six sets of sanctions on Pyongyang - two adopted last year - to significantly ramp up pressure and deny the North Korean regime the hard currency revenue needed for its military programmes.
But UN sanctions experts have repeatedly told the council the measures have had little impact because they have been poorly implemented.
Tillerson called on all countries to downgrade or sever diplomatic relations with North Korea and impose targeted sanctions on entities and individuals supporting its missile and nuclear programme.
The United States is ready to impose sanctions on third countries where companies or individuals are found to have helped North Korea’s military programmes, he said.
China instead wants Pyongyang to freeze its military programmes in exchange for a halt to US-South Korean annual drills.
“Now is the time to seriously consider talks,” said Wang.
But Tillerson was blunt in saying it was up to North Korea to take the first concrete steps.
“We will not negotiate our way back to the negotiating table,” he said.
“We will not reward their bad behaviour with talks.”
Amid a visit to London, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe condemned the latest missile test as “intolerable” and said the international community must unite to increase pressure on North Korea, while he also hoped China will play “constructive” role.
Lee Jung-nam, a professor at the Asiatic Research Institute at Korea University, said Kim Jong-un might have chosen to launch a medium-range missile, rather than an ICBM, in order “not to irritate the Americans too much”.
“As of the impact on South Korea, the people here are kind of used to it,” Lee said.
“But it might have some negative impact on the campaign of Moon Jae-in, the leading presidential candidate who wants to reconcile with the North. However, this impact could be offset by Trump’s request for South Korea paying $1 billion for THAAD yesterday. That was more outrageous to the South Korean people.”
Additional reporting by The Washington Post, Kyodo and Liu Zhen