North Korea says it has successfully tested its first intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) under the supervision of leader Kim Jong-un, and that it was capable of hitting anywhere in the world.
In a rare announcement on state North Korean television, an emotional newsreader said Kim Jong-un had personally overseen the ‘landmark’ test of a Hwasong-14 missile.
North Korea was now “a strong nuclear power state” and had “a very powerful ICBM that can strike any place in the world,” the newsreader said.
She added that the missile had reached an altitude of 2,802km (1,741 miles) and flew 933km (580 miles), longer and higher than any of the regime’s previous similar tests. Those figures roughly concurred with analysis by Japanese and South Korean officials.
That’s the highest ever altitude reached by a North Korean missile, and puts the US on notice that Pyongyang could potentially hit the US mainland.
While the apparent advancement in North Korea’s missile technology will add to concerns that the regime is moving closer to developing the capacity to strike the US mainland, many analysts still doubt whether it can miniaturise a nuclear weapon sufficiently to fit it on to a missile. They also believe the regime is unlikely to have mastered the technology needed for an ICBM to survive re-entry into Earth’s atmosphere.
North Korea said on Tuesday it successfully test-launched an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), a potential milestone in its campaign to develop a nuclear-tipped weapon, which flew a trajectory that an expert said could allow a weapon to hit the U.S. state of Alaska.
“The test launch was conducted at the sharpest angle possible and did not have any negative effect on neighbouring countries,” North Korea’s state media said in a statement.
The missile, referred to as Hwasong-14 on state TV, flew into waters east of the Korean Peninsula and may have landed in Japan’s Exclusive Economic Zone, which extends 200 nautical miles from its coastline, according to a Japanese defense official.
South Korea’s military confirmed that North Korea had fired an “unidentified ballistic missile” into the Sea of Japan, known in North Korea as the East Sea of Korea, from Banghyon in North Pyongan, a province near its border with China.
The “unidentified ballistic missile” was fired from a site in North Phyongan province, the South’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement, and came down in the East Sea, the Korean name for the Sea of Japan.
US Pacific Command confirmed the test and said it was a land-based, intermediate range missile that flew for 37 minutes, adding the launch did not pose a threat to North America.
It’s North Korea’s 11th missile test his year and comes amid increasing frustration from Trump about the lack of progress in curbing Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs.
Soon after the launch, but before North Korea announced its unprecedented height, the US President responded on Twitter.
“North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?” he asked, referring to Kim.
“Hard to believe that 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 incident also comes just days after Seoul’s new leader Moon and US President Donald Trump focused on the threat from Pyongyang in their first summit.
Since taking office on May 10, Moon has tried to improve strained ties with North Korea, but the North has continued its missile tests.
“President Moon has been talking about increasing engagement with North Korea, but a scale-back of its nuclear programme is a condition of that and President Trump seems to have been indicating that the US is losing patience with North Korea,” sources reporting from Seoul, said.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared to share Trump’s frustration, if not his tone. In remarks to the press, he vowed to work closely with the United States and South Korea, but called on China and Russia to do more.
“I’d like to strongly urge international society’s cooperation on the North Korea issue and urge China’s chairman, Xi Jinping, and Russia’s President Putin to take more constructive measures.”
The fear is that North Korea may one day develop the technology to mount a miniature nuclear warhead on a long-range missile, something analysts say it may have already achieved.
The Trump administration, which has repeatedly warned that the “era of strategic patience” with Pyongyang is over, has turned to China for help in reigning in the nuclear threat from North Korea.
But frictions between the two powers, including over the South China Sea and Taiwan, have impeded discussions.
After Trump’s tweets calling on China to take more action, China defended its efforts to resolve the North Korea nuclear issue.
“China has made relentless efforts for the settlement of the Korean peninsula nuclear issue. China’s contribution in this regard is well recognised, and its role is indispensable,” foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said.
China, North Korea’s northern neighbour and one of the only countries in the region with diplomatic ties to Pyongyang, urged restraint after the launch.
“The situation on the Korean Peninsula is sensitive and complex,” said Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Geng Shuang.
“We hope all relevant parties will exercise restraint and avoid taking actions that may escalate tensions and make efforts to bring the issue back to the peaceful settlement through dialogue and consultation.”
On Monday Liu Jieyi, China’s ambassador to the UN, warned of the risk of escalating tensions on the peninsula.
“Certainly we would like to see a de-escalation of tension,” he said in remarks to the press as China assumed the United Nations Security Council presidency for July.
“Certainly if tension goes up and goes up only then sooner or later it will get out of control and the consequences will be disastrous,” Liu said.
Bruce Bennett, Senior International/Defense Researcher at RAND Corporation, said North Korea had aimed high to limit the distance travelled and avoid a major international incident.
“You can’t hardly fire a missile from North Korea that’s got a thousand-kilometre range without it going into somebody’s exclusive economic zone. The bottom line is, they’ve flown it very high so that they can test the range of the missile. If they were to shoot it on a normal trajectory, it’s probably going to go out 6,000 or so kilometres. By definition, anything over 5,500 kilometres is an ICBM,” he said.