President Donald Trump called for tougher sanctions against North Korea after it test-fired a ballistic missile Sunday in an apparent attempt to test the South’s new liberal president and the US.
“Let this latest provocation serve as a call for all nations to implement far stronger sanctions against North Korea,” the White House said in a brief statement.
Before landing in the Sea of Japan the missile flew more than 700 kilometres (435 miles). It impacted “so close to Russian soil … the president cannot imagine that Russia is pleased”, the White House said, adding that North Korea “has been a flagrant menace for far too long”.
Russia’s defence ministry later said the missile landed about 500 km from its border and posed no threat.
Trump’s national security adviser, H.R. McMaster, had phone conversations with his counterparts in Japan and South Korea to discuss the situation.
China, which has been under growing US pressure to help rein in the nuclear-armed North, called for restraint.
“All relevant parties should exercise restraint and refrain from further aggravating tensions in the region,” the foreign ministry said.
Multiple sets of UN and US sanctions against North Korea have done little to deter it from pursuing its nuclear and missile ambitions.
Before the missile test, the US Treasury said it was considering “every tool in our arsenal” to cut off sources of international financing for illegal activities in the North.
Trump has threatened military action but recently appeared to have softened his stance, saying he would be “honoured” to meet leader Kim Jong-Un under the right conditions.
New South Korean President Moon Jae-In, who was inaugurated on Wednesday, has also been conciliatory. But he slammed the missile test as a “reckless provocation” after holding an emergency meeting with national security advisers.
Moon said Seoul strongly condemned this “grave challenge to the peace and security of the Korean peninsula and the international community”, according to his spokesman Yoon Young-Chan.
Moon, unlike his conservative predecessors, advocates reconciliation with Pyongyang but warned Sunday that dialogue would be possible “only if the North changes its attitude”.
Moon had said in his inauguration speech that he was willing to visit Pyongyang “in the right circumstances” to ease tensions.
The North itself would be willing to hold talks with the US if the conditions are right, according to Choe Son-Hui, a senior official at the North’s foreign ministry, on Saturday.
“The North is apparently trying to test Moon and see how his North Korea policy as well as policy coordination between the South and the US will take shape,” said Yang Moo-Jin, professor at the University of North Korea Studies in Seoul.
The launch was also aimed at “maximising the North’s political leverage” ahead of possible negotiations with the US, as Pyongyang and Washington both recently signalled they were open to talks, he added.
“The North wants to show before negotiations that their precious, powerful weapon is not something they would give up so easily,” Yang said.
The missile test is likely to embarrass Beijing, which was hosting an international summit Sunday to promote its ambitious global trade infrastructure project.
Russian President Vladimir Putin and his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping discussed the Korean situation on the sidelines of the meeting and “both parties expressed their concern over the escalation of tensions”, Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters.
China, the isolated North’s sole major ally and economic lifeline, has been reluctant to upset the status quo in Pyongyang and risk an influx of refugees from its neighbour.
The latest test was the North’s first launch since a controversial US missile defence system deployed in the South became operational on May 2. It follows a failed April 29 ballistic missile test by Pyongyang.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe slammed the latest launch as “totally unacceptable” and a “grave threat” to Tokyo.
The North has staged two atomic tests and dozens of missile launches since the start of last year in its quest to develop an intercontinental ballistic missile capable of delivering a nuclear warhead to the US mainland.
The US Pacific Command said Sunday’s launch did not appear to be an ICBM.
Yang said however it showed “fast progress” in Pyongyang’s missile capability.
The missile was fired from a site near the northwestern city of Kusong. A previous test at the same site in February sent a missile 500 kilometres, far less than Sunday’s launch.