Nuclear-armed North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile into the sea off its coast on Wednesday, in what was seen as a warning ahead of a US-China summit which is set to discuss Pyongyang’s accelerating atomic weapons program.
South Korea’s defense ministry said the missile -– launched days after Pyongyang warned of retaliation if the global community ramps up sanctions — had flown 60 kilometers.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said: “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.”
The incident represented a “threat to the peace and stability of the whole world”, Seoul said, while Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe labelled it a “grave provocation”.
The launch of a KN-15 medium-range ballistic missile in the Sea of Japan will fuel international concerns about the hermit state’s weapons program.
It came after President Donald Trump threatened the US was prepared to go it alone in bringing the North to heel.
Trump will host China’s President Xi Jinping at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida for their first face-to-face meeting, where the growing tensions on the Korean peninsula are expected to be high on the agenda.
The US administration has repeatedly insisted that Beijing holds the key to stopping its errant neighbor and is not doing enough to control it. But Beijing is wary of putting too much pressure on North Korea for fear of the unpredictable consequences if the regime collapses.
“The launch took place possibly in consideration of the US-China summit, while at the same time it was to check its missile capability,” a South Korean official told Reuters about the military’s initial assessment of the launch.
Chang Yong-Seok, a researcher at the Seoul National University’s Institute for Peace and Unification Studies, also told AFP the missile test was Pyongyang’s way of warning China and the US.
It was “a show of force to demonstrate its might against potential extra deployment of US troops and weapons near the peninsula”.
In February the North simultaneously fired four ballistic missiles off its east coast, three of which fell provocatively close to Japan.
Last August Pyongyang also successfully test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile 500 kilometers towards Japan, far exceeding any previous sub-launched tests, in what the North’s leader Kim Jong-Un hailed as the “greatest success”.
Any launch of objects using ballistic missile technology is a violation of UN Security Council resolutions. The North has defied the ban, saying it infringes on its sovereign rights to self-defense and the pursuit of space exploration.
Tillerson will make his first visit to the United Nations later this month to chair a Security Council meeting on North Korea, US Ambassador Nikki Haley told reporters Monday.
The April 28 meeting on non-proliferation and North Korea will be “timely” following the US-China summit this week.