SEOUL: North Korea fired at least one short-range ballistic missile on Monday that landed in the sea off its east coast, the latest in a fast-paced series of missile tests defying world pressure and threats of more sanctions.
The missile was believed to be a Scud-class ballistic missile and flew about 450 km, South Korean officials said. North Korea has a large stockpile of the short-range missiles, originally developed by the Soviet Union.
Monday’s launch followed two successful tests of medium- to long-range missiles in as many weeks by the North, which has been conducting such tests at an unprecedented pace in an effort to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) capable of hitting the mainland United States.
North Korea likely showing its determination to push ahead in the face of international pressure to rein in its missile programme and “to pressure the (South Korean) government to change its policy on the North”, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff spokesman Roh Jae-cheon said.
It was the third ballistic missile test-launch since South Korea’s liberal President Moon Jae-in took office on May 10 pledging to engage with the reclusive neighbour in dialogue.
Moon says sanctions alone have failed to resolve the growing threat from the North’s advancing nuclear and missile programme.
The missile reached an altitude of 120 km, Roh said.
“The assessment is there was at least one missile but we are analysing the number of missiles,” he said.
North Korea, which has conducted dozens of missile tests and tested two nuclear bombs since the beginning of 2016 in defiance of UN Security Council resolutions, says the programme is necessary to counter US aggression.
The White House said President Donald Trump had been briefed about the launch. The US Pacific Command said it tracked what appeared to be a short-range ballistic missile for six minutes and assessed it did not pose a threat to North America.
The United States has said it was looking at discussing with China a new UN Security Council resolution and that Beijing, North Korea’s main diplomatic ally and neighbour, realises time was limited to rein in its weapons programme through negotiations.
US Defence Secretary Jim Mattis, asked what a military conflict with North Korea might look like if diplomacy failed, warned on Sunday it would be “probably the worst kind of fighting in most people’s lifetimes”.
“The North Korean regime has hundreds of artillery cannons and rocket launchers within range of one of the most densely populated cities on Earth, which is the capital of South Korea,” Mattis told CBS news programme “Face the Nation”.
“And in the event of war, they would bring danger to China and to Russia as well,” he said.
China reiterated that UN Security Council resolutions had “clear rules” about North Korean missile activities and it urged Pyongyang not to contravene them.
“The situation on the Korean peninsula is complex and sensitive, and we hope all relevant sides maintain calm and exercise restraint, ease the tense situation as soon as possible and put the issue back onto the correct track of peaceful dialogue,” China’s foreign ministry said in a statement.