North Korean missile launch heightens tensions

Rex Tillerson says US has ‘spoken enough’ about hermit state as Donald Trump prepares to meet Pyongyang’s ally Xi Jinping

North Korea has fired a ballistic missile into the Sea of Japan, sending a clear message to its ally China ahead of the first summit between US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Florida on Friday.

Japan called the test “extremely problematic”, while the South Korean foreign ministry said it “threatens the peace and safety of the international community as well as the Korean peninsula”.

However, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson gave a “terse response… unlike the standard diplomatic condemnations that usually follow Pyongyang’s missile tests”, CNN says.

“The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment,” Tillerson said.

The Guardian reports that an unnamed official from the Trump administration, speaking before news of the launch broke, suggested “time was running out for a diplomatic solution”.

“We would have loved to see North Korea join the community of nations,” the official told the paper.

“They have been given that opportunity over the course in different dialogues and offers over the course of four administrations with some of best diplomats and statesmen doing the best they could to bring about a resolution.”

“The clock has now run out and all options are on the table for us.”

Friday’s meeting is expected to focus heavily on the growing nuclear threat from North Korea.

Trump earlier this week warned that the US is prepared to take unilateral actionagainst the hermit state if China is unwilling to intervene.

North Korea missile test fails as tensions simmer

22 March

North Korea today launched a missile which exploded “within seconds” of taking off, the US and South Korea say.

According to the South Korean defence ministry, a missile was fired from an airbase in Wonsan, on North Korea’s east coast, from where several intermediate-range missiles were launched last year.

US military spokesman Dave Benham confirmed the launch and said work was being carried out on a more detailed assessment.

The failed launch is the latest in a series of tests that have raised alarm across the region.

Despite a UN ban on North Korea developing nuclear or missile technology, its tests are coming with “increasing frequency”, says the BBC.

It adds that Pyongyang “often” conducts missile tests to coincide with the joint military drills carried out by the US and South Korea each spring.

Earlier this month, North Korea fired four missiles into Japanese waters and it has been claimed a fifth misfired at the same time.

According to Al Jazeera, the missile launch was “apparently timed to coincide” with US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s first visit to east Asia.

Tillerson met China’s President Xi Jinping in Beijing on Sunday and visited South Korea last week.

Professor Robert Kelly of Pusan University told Al Jazeera: “This is how the North Koreans send us a signal of displeasure. That’s what we assume of course, since they don’t tell us.”

The misfire shows North Korea still has “some way to go” before its “blood-curdling threats to turn Seoul and Washington into seas of flame” can be achieved, says the BBC’s Stephen Evans.

But while the secretive nation is not yet capable of firing an intercontinental missile, “progress does seem to be being made”, he adds.

On Saturday, Tillerson said Washington’s “policy of strategic patience” with North Korea had “ended”, although China’s foreign minister Wang Yi called for the US to remain “cool-headed”.

North Korea and US set for ‘head-on collision’

9 March

Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi warns Washington against deploying new missile defence system in South Korea.

The US and North Korea are set for a “head-on collision” that could have devastating consequences if neither side is willing to back down, China’s top diplomat has warned.

Using “unusually frank language”, China’s foreign minister Wang Yi cautioned the US against the deployment of a new missile defence system in South Korea, while urging the North to suspend its nuclear weapons programme, CNN reports.

He added: “The two sides are like two accelerating trains coming towards each other. The question is, are the two sides really ready for a head-on collision?”

His stark warning came after a week in which North Korea tested four ballistic missiles and the US deployed the first components of the terminal high altitude area defense missile system (Thaad) in South Korea.

“It’s designed to protect against attacks from North Korea,” says Quartz, but “China worries the system might defang its own weaponry”.

Earlier this week, China’s state news agency Xinhua said the deployment of Thaad could kick off an “arms race” in the region, and urged the US and South Korea to suspend joint military exercises that antagonise North Korea.

Wang said China’s role was to act as an early warning signal and “apply brakes on both trains” to avoid a potentially catastrophic collision on the Korean peninsula.

Euan Graham, director of the International Security Program at Sydney’s Lowy Institute, told CNN he was “very sceptical” of Wang’s hopes for brokering a potential deal between North Korea and the US.

“China has lost the initiative in the Korean Peninsula somewhat, not so much due to a proactive US policy to the region, but in the way that North Korea has been throwing its weight around,” he said.

North Korea is expected to dominate discussions when US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visits China, South Korea and Japan next week.

North Korea tests Donald Trump: How will the US respond?

13 February

North Korea yesterday fired its first ballistic missile since Donald Trump took office, in a move interpreted as a test of the new US President’s tougher stance towards the country.

The missile, which South Korean sources say landed in the Sea of Japan, was fired as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe visited Trump in Florida.

Appearing together at a news conference in Palm Beach, the two politicians condemned the test.

Abe called the launch “absolutely intolerable”, while Trump told him: “America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100 per cent.”

Yoshihide Suga, Japan’s chief cabinet secretary, said the timing of the launch represented “a clear provocation to Japan and the region”.

It “marks the first test of Trump’s vow to get tough on an isolated North Korean regime that last year tested nuclear devices and ballistic missiles at an unprecedented rate”, says Reuters.

The US administration is likely to weigh a series of possible responses, the news agency adds, “including new sanctions to tighten financial controls, an increase in naval and air assets in and around the Korean peninsula and accelerated installation of new missile defence systems in South Korea”.

Under UN Security Council resolutions intended to curb the development of nuclear weapons, North Korea is prohibited from carrying out ballistic missile launches. But leader Kim Jong-un said last month that his country was ready to test its first intercontinental ballistic missile, which could threaten the US mainland.

It isn’t clear whether Pyongyang has the ability yet to put a nuclear warhead on its intermediate-range missiles, making it a global threat, but “US commanders say they need to be prepared for the possibility”, says CNN.

“Combining nuclear warheads with ballistic missile technology in the hands of a volatile leader like Kim Jong Un is a recipe for disaster,” said Admiral Harry Harris, the head of the US military’s Pacific Command, in December.

Measured provocation

Bong Youngshik, a North Korea expert at Yonsei University in Seoul, said the latest missile launch was a “carefully chosen behaviour by Pyongyang” and not a reckless act.

He said: “By choosing not to fire a long-range missile, North Korea didn’t shut the door completely on the Trump administration. Rather, they tried to deliver a message of displeasure and an early warning that Trump would be better off choosing engagement policies.”

The launch is also likely to complicate politics on the Korean peninsula. Following a vast corruption scandal last year, Seoul is gearing up for a potential presidential election, with Liberal party candidate Moon Jae-in leading the polls.

However, “Moon has traditionally adopted a more dovish approach to Pyongyang and the latest provocation will be seen as a blow to his prospects”, says the Financial Times.

Infographic by www.statista.com for TheWeek.co.uk

US vows ‘overwhelming’ response if North Korea uses nuclear weapons

3 February

Donald Trump’s Defence Secretary has warned North Korea it would face an “effective and overwhelming” response from the US if it used nuclear weapons.

Speaking during a two-day visit to South Korea, James Mattis aimed to reassure Seoul the US will remain a strong military ally under the new President, despite his “tough rhetoric”, says the LA Times.

He said: “Any attack on the United States, or our allies, will be defeated, and any use of nuclear weapons would be met with a response that would be effective and overwhelming,” said Mattis.

Mattis’s comments follow fresh concern that Pyongyang might be preparing to test a new ballistic missile system, in what would be an early challenge for Trump’s administration.

North Korea routinely threatens to attack South Korea and the US. It conducted two nuclear tests last year, along with 20 further missile tests, in contravention of a host of UN resolutions and sanctions.

Pyongyang also appears to have also restarted the operation of a nuclear reactor at Yongbyon, in the north of the country. The facility produces plutonium which can be used for its nuclear weapons programme, according to US think-tank 38 North.

Mattis said: “North Korea continues to launch missiles, develop its nuclear weapons programme and engage in threatening rhetoric and behaviour.”

The US has a large military presence in South Korea and Japan as part of its defence deal following the end of the World War II.

According to the BBC, there are nearly 28,500 US troops in South Korea, for which Seoul pays about $900m (£710m) annually.

However, Trump has said he wants Japan and South Korea to pay more to maintain the US presence in their countries.

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