North Korea test fired what appeared to be another intercontinental ballistic missile Friday, just hours after the US and Japan moved to step up sanctions against Pyongyang following its first ICBM test earlier this month.
South Korean, US and Japanese monitors all detected the unusual late-night test, with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe saying the missile may have landed within Japan’s maritime exclusive economic zone.
“We assess that this missile was an intercontinental ballistic missile,” Pentagon spokesman Navy Captain Jeff Davis said, adding that the rocket travelled about 1,000 kilometers before splashing down in the Sea of Japan.
The launch came a day after North Korea celebrated what it calls “Victory Day” — the anniversary of the end of the 1950-53 Korean War. Pyongyang regularly times its missile tests to coincide with symbolic dates.
Condemnation was swift with Japan’s top government spokesman, calling Friday’s test another clear violation of UN resolutions.
“Our country will never tolerate it and made a severe protest to North Korea, condemning it in the strongest words,” Suga said.
In Seoul and Tokyo, the governments convened meetings of their national security councils.
US military and South Korean intelligence officials had in recent days warned that North Korea appeared to be prepping for another missile test.
The ICBM test on July 4 had triggered global alarm, with experts saying the missile had a theoretical range that could reach Alaska.
North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un, who personally oversaw that launch on America’s Independence Day, described it as a gift to the “American bastards.”
It sent tensions soaring in the region, pitting Washington, Tokyo and Seoul against China, Pyongyang’s last remaining major ally.
The United States instigated a push at the United Nations for tougher measures against Pyongyang, with US President Donald Trump saying he was considering a “pretty severe” response.
Joel Wit, a senior fellow at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University and an expert on the North’s nuclear weapons programme, said Friday’s launch confirmed time was running out for Washington to find a way out of a pressing security crisis.
“Another North Korean test of what appears to be a missile that can reach the United States further emphasises the need for the Trump administration to focus like a laser on this increasingly dangerous situation,” Wit said on the institute’s 38 North website.
Friday’s launch came just hours after the US Senate passed bipartisan sanctions on Pyongyang, and Japan slapped its own sanctions on two Chinese firms, including a bank accused of laundering North Korean cash.
North Korea’s accelerated drive towards a credible nuclear strike capability poses a thorny policy challenge for Trump, who is at loggerheads with Beijing over how to handle Kim Jong-Un’s regime.
Trump has repeatedly urged Pyongyang’s chief backer Beijing to rein the Stalinist state in, but Beijing insists dialogue is the only practical way forward.
There are still doubts about whether the North can miniaturise a nuclear weapon to fit a missile nose cone, or if it has mastered the technology needed for it to survive re-entry into the Earth’s atmosphere.
But since Kim came to power there have been advances including three nuclear tests and multiple rocket launches.
Reacting to Friday’s launch, UN spokesman Farhad Haq said it was “frustrating” that the Secretary General’s calls for all sides to de-escalate tensions on the Korean peninsula had gone unheeded.
In an apparent reference to China, Haq said it was important for all parties to “use their particular influence to help resolve this.”
In all, six sets of UN sanctions have been imposed on North Korea since it first tested an atomic device in 2006, but two resolutions adopted last year significantly toughened the sanctions regime.
Meanwhile, the US military is preparing to conduct another test of a missile-intercept system in Alaska, perhaps as soon as Saturday.
That test of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system had been scheduled before Friday’s developments.
The United States has layers of missile defense capabilities comprising several components designed to take down different types of missile at different phases of flight.