North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile on Wednesday from its east coast into the Sea of Japan, according to the US and South Korean military, in yet another snub to the UN Security Council.
The launch comes ahead of a summit between US President Donald Trump and China’s President Xi Jinping this week where adding pressure on the North to drop its arms program will take centre stage.
Topping the agenda of the meeting in Florida will be whether Trump will use trade ties with China to pressure Beijing to rein in the nuclear-armed North. That includes possible sanctions on Chinese banks.
The missile was fired from Sinpo, a port city on the North’s east coast, and it flew about 60 km (40 miles), South Korea’s Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. Sinpo is the site of a North Korean submarine base.
Any launch of objects using ballistic missile technology is a violation of UN resolutions to curtail Pyongyang’s nuclear weapon development program, but the North has called the UN ban an infringement of its sovereign rights to self defence and pursuit of space exploration.
The country is under extensive trade sanctions as a result of its missile and nuclear program.
North Korea attempted to launch a ballistic missile two weeks ago from its east coast and earlier in March successfully fired four missiles with some landing in the sea as close as 300 km (190 miles) from Japan’s coast.
That was the nearest North Korean missiles have come to Japan’s mainland and the launch was later analysed as being a simulation for an attack on a US military base in Japan. An outraged Tokyo called the manoeuvre “extremely dangerous.”
The US military said the latest launch was a KN-15 medium-range ballistic missile which they had determined posed no threat to America.
“US Pacific Command is fully committed to working closely with our Republic of Korea and Japanese allies to maintain security,” the military command in the Indo-Asia-Pacific region said.
US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson confirmed Pyongyang had launched “yet another” ballistic missile. “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment,” he said in a statement.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the launch was a “grave provocation” that “clearly violates UN Security Council resolutions”.
The reclusive state has also conducted two nuclear weapons tests since January 2016.
The North is believed to be developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that would have the range to reach the United States and its leader, Kim Jong Un, has vowed to test-launch one at any time.
Experts and officials in the South and the United States believe Pyongyang is still some time away from mastering the technology needed for an operational ICBM system, hence it’s repeated tests of missiles this year.
Kim Jong Un’s missile launches have succeeded in causing divisions between Beijing and Washington after South Korea agreed to deploy an advanced U.S. anti-missile system on its soil to counter the North Korean threat.
Beijing has objected to the installation of the so-called Terminal High Altitude Area Defence (THAAD) system because its powerful radar can penetrate into Chinese territory.
The THAAD dispute has also damaged China’s ties with South Korea, meaning Kim’s missile launches have already succeeded in causing disarray and conflict among the countries trying to stop them.