Missile test seen as shot across bow for Trump, Xi
Failed launch just before U.S.-China summit
SEOUL, SOUTH KOREA | A North Korean missile test ended in failure Wednesday when the rocket spun out of control and plunged into the ocean in a fiery crash, a senior U.S. defense official said.
The launch came shortly before President Trump’s first meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping later this week, raising speculation that it might have been timed to get their attention with the standoff with Pyongyang likely to be a top focus of their talks.
The extended-range Scud missile suffered an inflight failure and fell into the sea off North Korea’s east coast, according to U.S. imagery and assessments, the Pentagon official said on background.
Initial U.S. and South Korean assessments had indicated it was an advanced KN-15 medium-range missile, whose first known test by North Korea was in February. But unlike the KN-15, which uses solid fuel, the missile fired Wednesday used liquid fuel and was fired from a fixed location, rather than a mobile launcher, the official said.
The South Korean military said the missile was fired from land near the east coast city of Sinpo and flew only about 40 miles.
North Korea is pushing hard to upgrade its weapons systems to cope with what it calls U.S. drive for regime change. Many weapons experts say the North could have a functioning nuclear-tipped missile capable of reaching the continental U.S. within a few years. North Korea carried out two nuclear tests last year.
Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS think tank in Honolulu, said he was expecting North Korea would do something to coincide with the Trump-Xi summit, perhaps conduct a nuclear test. The missile launch may be a precursor, with more to come as the summit starts Thursday, he said.
“I’ve joked before that they don’t mind being hated but they definitely hate to be ignored,” Mr. Cossa said.
That calculation may have been behind Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s unusually terse, 23-word response to the latest test, which seemed to go out of its way not to dignify the North Korean test with a more expansive response.
“North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile,” Mr. Tillerson’s statement said. “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.”
Recent satellite imagery shows possible preparations for a test at North Korea’s main nuclear test site, including the laying of communication cables used to initiate a test and collect data.
North Korea’s state media have said the world will soon witness what they called “eventful successes” in the country’s space development. The United States, South Korea and others call North Korea’s space program a cover for its long-range missile development program.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry called the North’s latest missile launch a “reckless provocation” that posed a threat to international peace, while Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said his country lodged a strong protest over the launch.
Mr. Trump has said China must do more to pressure North Korea to halt its nuclear and missile programs, suggesting vaguely this week his administration was prepared to act alone if Beijing did not cooperate. Chinese Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Wednesday that all sides needed to be involved.