North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test involved a new rocket with a precision guidance system that landed within seven meters of its target, its state-controlled news agency said Tuesday.
Leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the launch of the missile early Monday from the country’s east coast. Preparations before the firing were more automated than for the previous “Hwasong,” or Scud, rockets, the Korean Central News Agency said, adding that this “markedly” reduced the launching time.
The accuracy claims, if true, would represent a potentially significant advancement in North Korea’s missile program. KCNA said Kim called for the continued development of more powerful strategic weapons, though the report didn’t mention whether the missile could carry nuclear warheads.
“We can’t prove if it’s bluffing, but North Korea is basically saying it can hit the target right in the center, which is scary news for the U.S.,” said Suh Kune Y., a professor at Seoul National University’s department of nuclear engineering. “If true, that means they’re in the final stage of missile development.”
The missile first appeared at an April 15 military parade celebrating the birth anniversary of North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung, the news agency said. It flew 450 kilometers (280 miles) toward Japan, according to South Korean military officials, with the government in Tokyo saying it may have reached waters in Japan’s exclusive economic zone.
The test -- the ninth this year -- came two days after the Group of Seven nations pledged to “strengthen measures” aimed at prompting North Korea to cease nuclear and ballistic missile trials. World leaders are grappling with how to halt provocations by the isolated nation, with South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in seeking engagement while U.S. President Donald Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe take a harder line.
KCNA said North Korea won’t be swayed by pressure from the G-7.
“The G-7 summit is a place where those nuclear- and missile-haves put their heads together to discuss how to pressure weak countries and those incurring their displeasure,” the news agency said. “The U.S. and its followers are seriously mistaken if they think they can deprive the DPRK of its nuclear deterrence, the nation’s life and dignity, through sanctions and pressure,” it said, using an abbreviation for North Korea.
Meanwhile, Moon ordered an investigation into how the final components of a controversial U.S. missile shield had arrived in South Korea without his knowledge. The newly elected president initiated the probe after learning that a complete set of six launchers for the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense system, or Thaad, were on South Korean soil, Moon’s spokesman Yoon Young-chan told a news conference Tuesday.
Previous defense ministry statements -- including a briefing given to the president last week -- had confirmed the deployment of only two launchers. During his election campaign, Moon called for a review of Thaad and sought to gain the understanding of China, which opposes the deployment, citing security concerns.
North Korea weighed in on Thaad in a separate KCNA commentary, saying the “evil” system would be useless at intercepting missiles and only make South Koreans more vulnerable. Withdrawing the shield “brooks not a moment’s delay as its deployment would make South Korea the first target of strike by neighboring nuclear powers,” it said.
Read more on how Thaad is angering China
Japan said the missile launched by North Korea on Monday landed about 300 kilometers from the Oki Islands off the nation’s western coast. Kim may have deliberately fired it toward waters that are claimed by both Japan and South Korea to foment discord between the nations and undermine cooperation with the U.S., according to Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California.
Trump, who has sought more help from China to rein in its neighbor and ally, said on Twitter that “North Korea has shown great disrespect for their neighbor, China, by shooting off yet another ballistic missile...but China is trying hard!”
Beijing also expressed its opposition to the test. All sides should “ease tensions on the Korean Peninsula as soon as possible and bring the Peninsula issue back onto the right track of peaceful dialog,” China’s foreign ministry said.
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