Days ahead of the G20 summit hosted by Germany later this week, North Korea carried out is fourth ballistic missile test launch, raising regional fears over its developing weapons arsenal.
South Korea’s military announced that the ballistic missile was launched from North Korea’s western region into the sea off its east coast on Tuesday.
The missile flew for about 40 minutes and landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ), the Japanese government said, adding it had strongly protested what it called a clear violation of UN resolutions.
The missile flew about 930 kilometers (580 miles), the South’s Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said, adding the altitude reached by the projectile was still being analyzed.
While some details are still unclear, the launch seems designed to send a political warning to Washington and its chief Asian allies, Seoul and Tokyo, even as it allows North Korean scientists a chance to perfect their still-incomplete nuclear missile program.
North Korea is ignoring repeated warnings from the international community, Japan’s Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said on Tuesday. Abe said he will ask the presidents of China and Russia to play more constructive roles in efforts to stop the North’s arms program.
“Leaders of the world will gather at the G20 meeting. I would like to strongly call for solidarity of the international community on the North Korean issue,” Abe told reporters.
“The latest launch clearly showed that the threat is growing,” he added.
Lee Illwoo, a Seoul-based military commentator, said the missile traveled for a far longer period of time than if it would have been fired at a normal angle. A North Korean scud-type missile, with a range of 800-900 kilometers, would land in its target site within 10 minutes if fired at a standard angle of 45 degrees. Lee said it’s likely that North Korea fired either Hwasong-12 missile or a solid-fuel Pukguksong-2, both of which were tested in May.
It was the fourth ballistic missile launched by the North since South Korean President Moon Jae-in took office in May, vowing to use dialogue as well as pressure to bring Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile programs under control.
Following the news of the latest launch, US President Donald Trump wrote on Twitter: “North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?” in a reference to the North’s leader Kim Jong Un.
“Hard to believe South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer. Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!”
The White House offered no immediate comment on the missile launch on Tuesday.
In his meeting with Moon last week in Washington, Trump called for a determined response to North Korea, stressing the importance of the alliance between the two countries.
The North has in the past launched ballistic missiles timed to key diplomatic events and meetings of leaders.
The last North Korean missile launches were in early June and the one on Tuesday came ahead of the G20 summit on July 7-8 in Hamburg, Germany, where the United States, China, Japan and South Korea are expected to discuss efforts to rein in the North’s nuclear and missile tests.
Pyongyang has been working to develop a nuclear-tipped missile capable of hitting the United States and has conducted missile-related activities at an unprecedented pace since the start of last year.
Earlier this week, North Korea was a key topic in phone calls between Trump and the leaders of China and Japan. Leaders of both Asian countries reaffirmed their commitment to a denuclearized Korean Peninsula.
Tuesday’s missile launch also comes ahead of July 4 Independence Day celebrations in the United States. North Korea has previously fired missiles around this US holiday.
South Korea’s presidential Blue House said Moon called a national security council meeting for 0230 GMT after being informed of the North’s missile launch.
Moon said on Monday in a meeting with former US President Barack Obama that North Korea now faces its “last opportunity” to engage in talks with the outside world
In his meeting in Washington on Friday with Moon, Trump called on regional powers to implement sanctions and demanded the North “choose a better path and do it quickly.”
The UN Security Council adopted its latest sanctions resolution in early June after North Korea conducted three ballistic missile test launches in May. Pyongyang routinely rejects such moves, saying they infringe on its sovereign right to self defense and space exploration.
North Korea has a reliable arsenal of shorter-range missiles, but is still trying to perfect its longer-range missiles. Some analysts believe North Korea has the technology to arm its short-range missiles with nuclear warheads, but it’s unclear if it has mastered the technology needed to build an atomic bomb that can fit on a long-range missile.
It has yet to test an ICBM, though it has previously conducted long-range satellite launches that critics say are covers meant to test missile technology.
On May 14, North Korea launched the Hwasong-12 missile, which its state media later said flew as high as 2,111 kilometers (1,310 miles) and landed in a targeted area in the ocean about 787 kilometers (490 miles) from the launch site. On May 21, North Korea also tested the Pukguksong-2, which traveled about 500 kilometers (310 miles).
China’s UN ambassador, Liu Jieyi, warned Monday that further escalation of already high tensions with North Korea risks getting out of control, “and the consequences would be disastrous.”