North Korea has fired a ballistic missile in the first such test since Donald Trump took office as US president.
PYONGAN – North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan on Sunday in what appeared to be a move timed to follow the first summit between Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe and US President Donald Trump in Washington.
The missile flew around 500 kilometres, according to the South Korean military. It was launched around 7.55am (5.55am Thailand time) near the city of Kusong, North Pyongan province in the northwest of the country. Details of the type of the missile are not yet known.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-un warned that his military was close to testing long-range missiles capable of reaching the United States mainland and carrying nuclear warheads.
Mr Trump derided the claim in a tweet, saying: “It won’t happen.”
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff believes the North launched a missile to demonstrate its military power and see how the new US administration under Trump responds, Yohnap News Agency reported.
“It is absolutely intolerable,” Abe declared in an impromptu joint press announcement with Trump, who said, “I just want everybody to understand fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100%.”
They were having a working dinner at Trump’s vacation home in Palm Beach, Florida, where the leaders played golf together following Friday’s summit.
“President Trump has just made it clear in our leaders’ summit that the United States is with Japan 100% at all times, and he is standing next to me right now in order to demonstrate that will,” Abe said.
At the summit, they confirmed Japan and the United States are facing challenges in the Asia-Pacific region and that bilateral cooperation is essential to deal with them. Defending against North Korea’s missile and nuclear threat is “a very, very high priority,” Trump said at the time.
The South Korean military is checking if the missile was an intermediate-range Musudan. It is the North’s first ballistic missile launch since Oct 20 when it failed to test-fire what was believed to be a Musudan.
A Musudan missile has a potential range of between 2,500 and 4,000 kilometres, which would cover not only any target in Japan and South Korea, but could also reach US military bases on the Pacific island of Guam.
The missile launched Sunday fell into waters about 350 km off the east coast of North Korea, Japanese Defence Minister Tomomi Inada told reporters, adding that the government will continue its efforts to determine the type of missile.
Japan lodged a protest with North Korea over the missile launch, chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said at a hurriedly arranged press conference.
The missile apparently dropped into the sea outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone, which extends 200 nautical miles (about 370 km) from shore, the top government spokesman said, adding there were no immediate reports of damage to ships and aircraft.
Inada told reporters that her ministry will make every effort to find out more about the launch as well as conduct surveillance and warning activities.
Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida said Japan is asking the United Nations to issue a “strong message” condemning the launch. The government will also enhance cooperation with the US and South Korea in sharing information about North Korea, Kishida told reporters.
North Korea has been the subject of severe UN sanctions banning it from developing or testing nuclear and ballistic missile technologies.
Despite that, in 2016 alone North Korea test-fired more than 20 ballistic missiles, also including medium-range Rodong-type missiles, short-range Scuds, and submarine-launched missiles. It also conducted two nuclear tests last year, most recently in September, its fifth and largest to date.
In his New Year’s address, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un said his country has reached the final stage of preparing to test-launch an intercontinental ballistic missile.
A week later, North Korea’s Foreign Ministry then threatened that Pyongyang could carry out an ICBM test at any time and location determined by its leadership.
If the missile becomes fully operational, it could potentially deliver a nuclear warhead to the US mainland.
The use of a road-mobile launcher for this type of missile makes it very hard for other countries to detect North Korea’s preparations in advance by satellite.
A modified version of an ICBM known as the road-mobile KN-08 was among the hardware shown off at a massive military parade in Pyongyang in October 2015 to mark the 70th anniversary of the founding of the ruling Workers’ Party.
In April last year, North Korea claimed to have successfully tested a new type of engine for an ICBM.
Kim, who observed the test, was quoted by the country’s official media as saying at that time that it paved the way for “another form of nuclear attack upon the US imperialists and other hostile forces.”