By Emily Rauhala,
BEIJING — North Korea test-fired a ballistic missile Tuesday, defying international condemnation and earning a swift and angry rebuke from President Trump.
In a special television announcement, North Korean state media claimed the country had successfully tested an intercontinental ballistic missile, which, if confirmed, would be a major development.
South Korean President Moon Jae-in had said earlier that it may indeed be an ICBM. U.S. Pacific Command’s first statement on the launch called it a land-based intermediate range missile.
Either way, the test has renewed questions about how close Kim Jong Un’s regime is to developing a missile capable of hitting the United States.
It also appears to have put North Korea at the top of Trump’s agenda as he heads into Group of 20 meetings in Germany this week, raising the stakes as he prepares to meet foreign leaders, including Chinese President Xi Jinping.
As news of the July 4 test emerged, Trump took to Twitter, calling out Kim and appearing to urge China to do more to pressure him. “North Korea has just launched another missile. Does this guy have anything better to do with his life?” Trump wrote.
“Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer,” he continued. “Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe appeared to share Trump’s frustration, if not his tone. In remarks to the press to the press Tuesday, Abe vowed to work closely with the United States and South Korea, but called on China and Russia to do more.
“I’d like to strongly urge international society’s cooperation on the North Korea issue and urge China’s chairman, Xi Jinping, and Russia’s President Putin to take more constructive measures.”
Beijing has yet to issue a formal response.
Experts are still looking for clues about the missile and what they might mean, both in terms of North Korea’s capability and the international community’s response.
U.S. and South Korean officials say the launch was made from a site in North Korea’s Phyongan province. The missile flew more than 500 miles before landing in waters off the Japanese coast.
Melissa Hanham of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies in California said experts are waiting for more detailed information about the missile’s trajectory, as well as pictures of the weapon, to identify and categorize it, but that early signs suggested it may be a significant development.
“This is definitely a serious missile,” she said. “We just don’t know if it’s the same serious missile we’ve seen, or if it went further.”
The test comes after a string of recent tests, including a salvo of missiles last month and three tests in May alone. Kim has now launched more missiles in one year than his father did in 17 years in power.
The rate and variety of tests has alarmed experts, who see the launches as part of an effort to develop a nuclear-tipped weapon capable of reaching the west coast of the United States. The missiles are already capable of hitting much of East Asia.
Tuesday’s test will put fresh pressure on the Trump administration to address North Korea. Since taking office, Trump has made North Korea’s weapons program a priority, focusing his efforts — and tweets — on getting North Korea to back down.
At the heart of Trump’s strategy is getting China, North Korea’s neighbor and patron, to pressure the Kim regime. In recent weeks, there have been signs that is frustrated with the progress. On June 21, Trump tweeted that, although he appreciated Beijing’s efforts, “it has not worked out.”