Seoul: Test shows progress

North has im­proved rocket en­gine tech­nol­ogy, says S. Korea

The Star Malaysia - - World -

Seoul: North Korea’s lat­est rocket en­gine test showed “mean­ing­ful progress” in its mis­sile ca­pa­bil­i­ties, Seoul said, as the nu­clear-armed state steps up its con­tro­ver­sial weapons devel­op­ment pro­grammes.

The North’s leader Kim Jong-un over­saw the “suc­cess­ful” test of the pow­er­ful new rocket en­gine, state me­dia said on Sun­day, in a move ap­par­ently timed to co­in­cide with a trip to Asia by new US Sec­re­tary of State Rex Tiller­son.

It was the lat­est in a se­ries of moves by Py­ongyang, which have re­cently in­cluded the fir­ing of four mis­siles to its east in what it de­scribed as prac­tice for an at­tack on US army bases in Ja­pan.

“The lat­est test is be­lieved to have made some mean­ing­ful progress in en­gine func­tions,” Seoul’s de­fence min­istry spokesman told re­porters yes­ter­day.

“But we need more anal­y­sis on its ex­act propul­sive power and ap­pli­ca­ble use,” said Lee Jin-woo.

The North’s last ground test of a high-pow­ered rocket en­gine – which can be used in mis­siles – was in Septem­ber last year, and also ob­served by Kim.

The week­end’s ex­per­i­ment came as the top US diplo­mat wrapped up his trip to Tokyo, Seoul and Bei­jing, hav­ing de­clared Wash­ing­ton would drop the “failed” ap­proach of “strate­gic pa­tience” with Py­ongyang.

In Seoul, Tiller­son also warned that US mil­i­tary ac­tion against Py­ongyang was pos­si­ble – a sharp diver­gence from China’s in­sis­tence on a diplo­matic ap­proach to its neigh­bour, which it has long pro­tected.

The im­pov­er­ished, iso­lated North in­sists that it needs nu­clear and mis­sile weapons for self-de­fence against “hos­tile forces”, in­clud­ing the United States and its ally South Korea.

It has con­ducted five nu­clear tests since 2006 – three un­der Kim Jong-un – and launched a num­ber of mis­siles as it seeks to de­velop a weapon ca­pa­ble of reach­ing the US main­land.

Ex­pert opin­ions vary on how ad­vanced the North’s mis­sile ca­pa­bil­i­ties are, but most agree it has made sig­nif­i­cant progress in re­cent years.

A grow­ing threat from the North has prompted Seoul and Wash­ing­ton to be­gin in­stalling a pow­er­ful US mis­sile de­fence sys­tem in the South – an­ger­ing Bei­jing, which views it as a threat to China’s own mis­sile ca­pa­bil­i­ties.

The de­ploy­ment of Ter­mi­nal High Al­ti­tude Area De­fence (THAAD) has prompted an­gry protests in China and boy­cotts of South Korean busi­nesses, and fur­ther strained ties be­tween Bei­jing and Wash­ing­ton. — AFP

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