Korea war games as Kim Jong Un taunts US
BEIJING: Tensions over North Korea’s July 4 missile test mounted yesterday, with the US and South Korean forces conducting military exercises and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un appearing to personally taunt US President Donald Trump.
The latest test launch was a display of the North’s longest-range weapon yet – an intercontinental ballistic missile with the possibly of hitting Alaska.
Before his inauguration, Trump said North Korea’s plan to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the US “won’t happen” and has since made tough talk on the issue a signature.
Now Trump could be forced into a difficult test amid deep international divisions over how to respond to an increasingly defiant North Korea.
Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called for “global action” to counter North Korea. But in a joint statement issued late on Tuesday, Beijing and Moscow called for a “double suspension” that would see Pyongyang freeze its weapon programme and the US and South Korea stop joint military exercises.
Instead, the manoeuvres went ahead in what US Pacific Command called an “ironclad” show of resolve. In one exercise, the US Army and the South Korea military fired missiles off the eastern coast of South Korea.
A US commander warned that North Korea’s action threatened the tense balance on the Korean Peninsula in place since the end of the Korean War.
“Self-restraint, which is a choice, is all that separates armistice and war,” General Vincent K Brooks, commander of the US Forces Korea, and General Lee Sun-jin, chairman of the South’s joint chiefs of staff, said.
Meanwhile, North Korea’s leader Kim threatened more tests and taunted Trump, calling the ICBM test an Independence Day gift, according to North Korean state media.
South Korean authorities described the North’s test as a twostage missile with a range of about 6 920km to 8 046km. That is enough to reach Alaska and other parts of North America.
Daniel Pinkston, a lecturer in international relations at Troy University in Seoul, said he saw no chance the US and South Korea would agree to halt joint exercises, especially after the North’s latest missile test.
But there also appears to be very little international consensus on what to do next.
Deng Yuwen, a Beijing-based expert on North Korea, sees a growing divide between the positions of the US, South Korea and Japan, on one hand, and China and Russia on the other. “Two opposing blocs have been formed,” he said.
South Korea’s defence minister, Han Min-koo, said there was high probability Pyongyang would stage another nuclear test. He also noted gains in their efforts to miniaturise a warhead – both steps toward developing a nuclear-tipped weapon capable of hitting mainland US.
South Korean soldiers ride a K-1 tank during an exercise in Paju, near the border with North Korea yesterday.