SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired a ballistic missile off its east coast on Wednesday, a day before President Trump was to host his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida for their first summit meeting.
The missile test is likely to intensify differences between Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi over how to deal with the recalcitrant regime in North Korea.
The timing is also a deep embarrassment for Mr. Xi as the leader of China, which for decades has been the North’s closest ally. China accounts for about 90 percent of the North’s trade and is a key supplier of oil for the country. But in the eyes of Washington, China has been reluctant to use its economic leverage forcibly enough to stop the North’s growing nuclear and missile threats.
“The United States has spoken enough about North Korea,” Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson said in a statement. “We have no further comment.”
There was no immediate reaction from state news media in China. Mr. Xi was in Finland when the test was carried out.
In Seoul, the South Korean capital, Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn ordered a meeting of security-related cabinet ministers to assess the test and the North’s growing missile menace.
The missile took off from Sinpo, a town on North Korea’s east coast, and flew 37 miles before splashing into the sea, the South Korean military said in a statement.
Initial assessments indicated that the type of missile was a KN-15, said Cmdr. Dave Benham of the Navy, a spokesman for the United States Pacific Command. KN-15 is the name the United States uses to refer to the Pukguksong-2, a new nuclear-capable intermediate-range ballistic missile North Korea launched for the first time in February.
The February missile test took place while Mr. Trump was hosting Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan at his Mar-a-Lago club in Florida.
“The North American Aerospace Defense Command determined the missile launch from North Korea did not pose a threat to North America,” Mr. Benham said, referring to the missile launched on Wednesday.
It was the first test from North Korea since a launch on March 22. That test was considered a failure, with the projectile exploding within seconds of launch, according to American and South Korean defense authorities.
But by launching a missile on Wednesday, North Korea apparently sought to pull attention to its growing missile and nuclear weapons threats a day before the United States-China summit meeting. To Mr. Trump, the test was a fresh reminder that the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, was determined to develop a long-range missile that could one day carry a nuclear warhead across the Pacific.
Before the summit meeting, Mr. Trump increased pressure on China, saying that it was time for Beijing to rein in its Communist ally. In an interview with The Financial Times published on Sunday, he said, “If China is not going to solve North Korea, we will.” But he did not say how.
But China has insisted that the United States should re-engage the North in dialogue to work out a compromise.
Analysts say that despite its irritation with North Korea’s nuclear programs, China does not want to destabilize its government, for fear that it might trigger open conflict on the Korean Peninsula that would unleash a flood of refugees into northeast China.
Both Mr. Trump and Mr. Xi will likely use another missile test by the North to stress the merits of their conflicting approaches on the North.
North Korea has conducted a series of nuclear and ballistic-missile tests since 2006 in an effort to develop a small and sophisticated nuclear warhead and an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of reaching targets as far away as the United States.
North Korea rattled the region in February when it successfully launched the Pukguksong-2. That missile uses a solid-fuel technology that American experts say will make it easier for the country to hide its arsenal in its numerous tunnels and launch its missiles on very short notice.
Then, on March 6, the North launched four ballistic missiles into the sea near Japan.
By firing the four missiles simultaneously, North Korea tried to flaunt an ability to launch multiple missiles at American bases in Japan and at American aircraft carriers around the Korean Peninsula, South Korean defense officials said.
The ability to launch a barrage of missiles increases the chances of breaching antimissile defenses.Read More...
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