North Korea missile test splits world powers

The latest missile test by North Korea, one of its furthest-reaching yet, has split world powers who united behind new UN sanctions just days ago.

The US said the burden of responding to the North should fall on China, its main ally, and Russia, which also has ties to the regime in Pyongyang.

But China suggested the US was shirking its own responsibility, while Russia condemned “aggressive” US rhetoric.

The missile fired over Japan had the range to hit the US territory of Guam.

It reached an altitude of about 770km (478 miles), travelling 3,700km past Japan’s northernmost island of Hokkaido before landing in the sea, South Korea’s military says.

It is the furthest any North Korean ballistic missile has ever travelled overground, Joseph Dempsey of the International Institute for Strategic Studies said in a tweet.

Key US ally South Korea responded within minutes by firing two ballistic missiles into the sea in a simulated strike on the North.

The UN Security Council will meet later on Friday in New York at the request of the US and Japan.

What accusations are being traded?

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said his country would “never tolerate” such “dangerous provocative action”, and the US, China and Russia also condemned the test, coming as it did after the North’s nuclear bomb test on 3 September.

Russian President Vladimir Putin and his French counterpart Emmanuel Macron have called for a resumption of direct talks with Pyongyang to de-escalate the crisis, the Kremlin says.

On Monday, UN Security Council members voted unanimously to restrict oil imports and ban textile exports to North Korea in response to the nuclear test, which had violated UN resolutions.

However, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made clear Washington considered it was now up to Beijing and Moscow to act to restrain Pyongyang.

They “must indicate their intolerance for these reckless missile launches by taking direct actions of their own,” he said.

He said that China supplied North Korea with most of its oil, while Russia was the largest employer of North Korean forced labour.

Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying hit back by saying her country was not the “focal point of the conflict”.

“The various directly involved parties should take responsibility,” she told journalists, in remarks clearly aimed at the US and South Korea. “Any attempt to wash their hands of the issue is irresponsible and unhelpful for resolving the issue.”

She added that sanctions were “not the way to solve the problem” and called for a peaceful solution “through formal diplomatic means”.

Speaking on a Russian radio station, Russian foreign ministry spokeswoman Maria Zakharova said: “We are demonstrating not only our intolerance towards the illegal launches but also our willingness to settle the situation in the Korean peninsula.”

“Regrettably, aggressive rhetoric is the only thing coming from Washington,” she added.

Why does this new test matter?

The launch took place from the Sunan district of the capital Pyongyang just before 07:00 local time (22:00 GMT on Thursday), South Korea’s military says. Sunan is home to Pyongyang International Airport.

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As with the last test on 29 August, the missile flew over Japan’s northern Hokkaido island before splashing down in the Pacific Ocean. There were no immediate reports of damage to aircraft or ships.

Sirens sounded across the region and text message alerts were sent out warning people to take cover.

Comparison of missile launches over Japan
15 September 29 August
Distance travelled 3,700km (2,299 miles) 2,700km
Maximum altitude 770km 550km
Landing distance from Japan 2,200km 1,180km
Flight duration 19 minutes 32 minutes
Missile type Thought to be intermediate range missile Thought to be intermediate range Hwasong-12

Observers say it is likely to have been an intermediate range ballistic missile (IRBM) though Japanese officials believe there is still a possibility it was an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

What is so alarming about the new launch is that the US Pacific territory of Guam, which North Korea says it has plans to fire missiles towards, is 3,400km from Pyongyang, putting it within range of the latest missile.

The North’s sixth nuclear test reportedly involved a miniaturised hydrogen bomb that could be loaded on to a long-range missile.

Have North Korea’s missile tests paid off?

How is South Korea responding?

In South Korea, President Moon Jae-in held an emergency meeting of his national security council, where he said that dialogue with the North was “impossible in a situation like this”.

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Officials have been ordered to prepare for possible North Korean chemical, biological and electromagnetic pulse (EMP) attacks, a presidential spokesman said.

North Korea has said it has bombs capable of sending EMP shock waves, which would disrupt power supplies, although the claim has been greeted with some scepticism.

The country does have an extensive chemical arsenal and may also have biological weapons.

Why is the North acting like this?

It insists it needs a nuclear-weapons programme to ensure its survival and there has been no let-up in its fiery rhetoric.

On Thursday, it threatened to “sink Japan and turn America to ashes”.

A commentary in North Korea’s state-run Rodong Sinmun newspaper, published after the latest missile launch, accuses the US and South Korea of conducting “ceaseless” exercises as a provocation.


North Korea’s missile programme

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  • Pyongyang has been developing weapons, initially based on the Soviet-developed Scud, for decades
  • Conducted short and medium-range missile tests on many occasions, sometimes to mark domestic events or periods of regional tension
  • Pace of tests has increased in recent months; experts say North Korea appears to be making significant advances towards building a reliable long-range nuclear-capable weapon
  • On 3 September, North Korea said it tested a hydrogen bomb that could be miniaturised and loaded on a long-range missile

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