North Korea conducted yet another weapons test Monday (its third missile launch in as many weeks), successfully firing a short-range ballistic missile into Japan’s exclusive economic waters in open defiance of UN sanctions and growing international pressure from the U.S., China, Japan and others.
Japan’s Ministry of Defense said the missile was launched from the eastern coast town of Wonsan at approximately 5.40 a.m. local time and landed in the Sea of Japan having traveled for six minutes covering a distance of about 450 kilometers (280 miles). Though there is some dispute about where exactly the missile landed.
Japan and South Korea strongly condemned Monday’s missile launch, which landed in the former’s exclusive economic maritime zone. “This ballistic missile launch by North Korea is highly problematic from the perspective of the safety of shipping and air traffic and is a clear violation of United Nations Security Council resolutions,” Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters. And Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo said North Korea’s latest launch was a “provocation,” and “absolutely unacceptable.”
North Korea’s state run newspaper Rodong Sinmun reported that Kim Jong Un referred to the test of the “new-type anti-aircraft guided weapon system” as having been “perfect” and said it should be “mass-produced to deploy all over the country.”
Early analysis suggests this was a short range scud-type ballistic missile, which follows Pyongyang’s rapid testing of long and medium-range missiles in recent weeks. Pyongyang is rapidly developing and testing its missile technology as it aims to build an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the U.S. The North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) assessed that the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America. Analysts and experts are still determining the significance of the latest launch and how it factors into Pyongyang’s ICBM ambitions.
U.S. Pacific Command confirmed the launch in a statement, writing that it was working with its partners on a more detailed assessment of the launch. “U.S. Pacific Command stands behind our ironclad commitment to the security of our allies in the Republic of Korea and Japan,” the statement said.
Meanwhile, Russia and China, widely considered to hold the most sway with Pyongyang, were critical of the latest missile test but called for calm. “The situation on the Korean peninsula is complex and sensitive, and we hope all relevant sides maintain calm and exercise restraint,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.
According to the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies, Monday’s test brings the total for 2017 to 12, indicating a significant increase in activity over 2016. Last month a North Korean official said it would be testing missiles much more regularly. “We’ll be conducting more missile tests on a weekly, monthly and yearly basis,” Vice-Foreign Minister Han Song-ryol told the BBC at the time.
Last year North Korea also conducted two nuclear tests, and analysts have been predicting that Pyongyang is preparing for another one, based on activity around the country’s nuclear test facility.
U.S. President Donald Trump was briefed on the latest missile test, and on Monday morning, Trump logged onto Twitter to rail against it on behalf of China.
Last week at the G7 summit in Italy, Trump spoke to Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe about the issue, saying: “It’s a big problem. It’s a world problem. And it will be solved at some point. It will be solved. You can bet on that.”
While Trump has vacillated between outrage and empathy towards Kim Jong Un since taking up residence in the White House, in Seoul, South Korea’s new president, Moon Jae-in, is attempting to combine a hard line approach to military efforts with a softer political approach that seeks to reopen dialogue with the North.
Seoul recently said it will allow a civic group to contact North Korea about helping them treat malaria, which marks the first government-approved cross-border civilian exchange since January 2016.
“The government will respond strongly to any North Korean provocations, but at the same time, we are flexibly reviewing ways to allow humanitarian and civilian exchanges without compromising international sanctions,” a South Korean ministry official said Monday.