Beijing condemns latest missile test that analysts say may give Pyongyang more negotiating power
ICBM that could reach the ‘whole mainland of the United States’ shows North Korea is close to having real nuclear capability, observers say
North Korea declared on Wednesday it had completed its mission to be a nuclear force as it successfully tested a powerful new intercontinental ballistic missile that can strike the “whole mainland of the United States”, sparking condemnation across the region.
Beijing said it was “gravely concerned” about the Hwasong-15 missile test, which analysts say shows Pyongyang is close to achieving real nuclear capability and gives the reclusive regime more negotiating power with Washington.
Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China opposed the launch and called on North Korea to refrain from further provocations.
“We hope that all relevant parties could help promote dialogue to resolve the issue,” Geng said in a press briefing on Wednesday.
The missile test came a week after US President Donald Trump put North Korea back on a list of countries that support terrorism, paving the way for Washington to impose more sanctions.
It was the highest and longest any North Korean missile had flown, landing in the sea near Japan.
“After watching the successful launch of the new type ICBM Hwasong-15, Kim Jong-un declared with pride that now we have finally realised the great historic cause of completing the state nuclear force, the cause of building a rocket power,” according to a statement read on North Korea’s state-run television.
The missile reached an altitude of around 4,475km and flew 950km during its 53-minute flight.
The Hwasong-15 was a more advanced version of an ICBM tested twice in July, North Korea said. It was designed to carry a “super-large heavy warhead”.
The US-based Union of Concerned Scientists said the missile would have a range of more than 13,000km – meaning it could reach Washington and the rest of the United States.
US President Donald Trump spoke by phone with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in, with all three leaders reaffirming their commitment to combat the North Korean threat.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis said: “It went higher, frankly, than any previous shot they’ve taken, a research and development effort on their part to continue building ballistic missiles that can threaten everywhere in the world.”
Russia said the missile test would stoke tensions and move away from settlement of the crisis.
The United Nations Security Council was expected to meet on Wednesday to discuss the missile test, which Secretary General Antonio Guterres strongly condemned.
Tensions over the Korean peninsula following Pyongyang’s repeated nuclear and missile tests have overshadowed Sino-US relations. Washington has imposed unilateral sanctions against Chinese individuals and businesses with links to Pyongyang, and demanded Beijing take a tougher line against the North.
But China has said dialogue should be the key to resolving the crisis, opposing unilateral sanctions outside the UN framework.
Pyongyang has yet to prove its capabilities in terms of re-entry technology and a missile that can carry a heavy nuclear warhead over a long distance, but the Hwasong-15 would significantly change the regional security situation, observers said.
“This means North Korea is very close to having real nuclear strike and deterrence capability,” said Cai Jian, head of Korea studies at Fudan University.
The test would again escalate tensions as the international community reacted with outrage to the latest provocation from Pyongyang, Cai said. But he believed that in the long run, the risk of a major conflict breaking out had lessened and a military strike on the North was less likely.
“It has flared up again for now, but it actually will facilitate negotiation in the long run,” Cai said. “North Korea’s growing nuclear and missile capability gives it more negotiating chips to get the United States to sit down and talk to them.”
Wang Sheng, a Korean affairs specialist from Jilin University in Changchun, said that in the two months since Pyongyang’s last missile test in September, the regime had probably been watching whether Trump would change his policy on the peninsula during his visit to East Asia in early November.
“Pyongyang is very determined to develop its missile capabilities and it has been saying it is targeting the US,” he said.
Additional reporting by Reuters