SEOUL – US bombers flew over the Korean peninsula yesterday as Donald Trump lashed out at China for failing to take action following North Korea’s second intercontinental ballistic missile test this month.
The two supersonic bombers were accompanied by South Korean fighter jets in a show of force a day after Pyongyang demonstrated the ability to fire an ICBM to the US mainland and Australia’s east coast.
Analysts said flight data from Saturday’s test showed Los Angeles and Chicago were now in range of Pyongyang’s weapons.
The US Pacific Air Forces said the bomber mission was a response to North Korea’s ICBM tests. “North Korea remains the most urgent threat to regional stability,” Pacific Air Forces commander General Terrence O’Shaughnessy said.
“Diplomacy remains the lead. However, we have a responsibility to our allies and our nation to showcase our unwavering commitment while planning for the worst-case scenario.
“If called upon, we are ready to respond with rapid, lethal, and overwhelming force at a time and place of our choosing.”
North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un supervised Saturday’s launch — North Korea’s 12th since February — and said it was a “stern warning” for the US that it would not be safe from destruction if it tried to attack, the North’s official KCNA news agency said.
“The test-fire reconfirmed the reliability of the ICBM system, demonstrated the capability of making a surprise launch of the ICBM in any region and place any time, and clearly proved that the whole US mainland is in the firing range of the DPRK missiles, (Kim) said with pride,” KCNA said.
The US President hit back yesterday in a tweet: “I am very disappointed in China. Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk. We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!”
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson joined blaming China and Russia for being North Korea’s “economic enablers”.
China called on “all parties concerned” to show restraint. It claimed last week that tougher US sanctions were unnecessarily riling the North Koreans.
Beijing’s strongest words at the weekend were directed to Washington and Seoul, as it “strongly urged” them to halt the deployment of a US antimissile system in South Korea.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in ordered the previously suspended deployment to go ahead again following Saturday’s test.
Russia is rapidly re-engaging with North Korea. Exports, led by jet fuel and trucks, doubled in the first five months of the year, and it employs 50,000 North Korean workers.
The altitude, range and flight time of the weekend test indicated the missile had a range of 10,400km.
The Hwasong-14 flew for 47 minutes from the northern Chagang province, reaching an altitude of at least 3000km — North Korea claimed 3724km — before landing in the sea within Japan’s exclusive economic zone, near the island of Hokkaido.
Compared with the missile tested on July 4, this appeared to have a larger second stage, powered by a high-thrust engine, and travelled further.
Soon after Saturday’s launch, US and South Korean military forces staged a live-fire exercise, shooting missiles into the sea off South Korea’s east coast. China has previously urged the two countries to halt joint military activities to encourage North Korea to negotiate.
South Korean national security adviser Chung Eui-yong rapidly received approval from his US counterpart, HR McMaster, for talks to help Seoul build a more powerful missile capability.
Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe chaired an emergency security council meeting, and said the missile test “shows clearly the threat is severe and real”.