North Korea: Missile launches keep tensions rise

North Korea launched a missile early on Sunday in defiance of American threats, but it reportedly blew up on take off, arch rival South Korea says.
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The attempted missile launch near Sinpo, on its east coast, is believed to have failed, South Korea’s military said.

The launch comes a day after the North held a military parade in its capital Pyongyang marking the birth anniversary of the state founder where what appeared to be new ballistic missiles were displayed.

“The North attempted to launch an unidentified missile from near the Sinpo region this morning but it is suspected to have failed,” the South’s Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

There were no further details, and the office said it was analysing the launch.

The North launched a ballistic missile from the same region earlier this month ahead of a summit meeting between the leaders of the United States and China, its key ally, to discuss the North’s increasingly defiant arms programme.

Tension had escalated sharply in the region amid concerns the reclusive North may soon conduct a sixth nuclear test or a ballistic missile test launch timed with the April 15 anniversary it calls the “Day of the Sun.”

The White House has said US President Donald Trump has put the North “on notice” while the possibility of American military action against Pyongyang has gained traction following US cruise missile strikes against Syria on April 7.

Trump has ordered a navy strike group flagshipped by a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to head to the region as a show of force as his officials assess tougher economic sanctions, as well as military options against the North.

The North has in turn warned of a nuclear strike against the United States if provoked.

– Failed missile launch still a defiant move by Pyongyang, analysts –

The failed ballistic missile launch by North Korea on Sunday was still a defiant move that could further push China into a corner as tensions on the Korean Peninsula reached an alarming level, mainland observers said.

China’s top diplomat Yang Jiechi and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had a phone conversation on the situation in the Korean peninsula on Sunday, after the reportedly failed missile launch.

The two diplomats discussed the implementation of agreements reached by the two sides during the first summit of President Xi Jinping and his US counterpart Donald Trump at the Mar-a-Lago estate earlier this month, state-run Xinhua reported, giving no further details.

The missile, which was fired from the Sinpo area on its east coast shortly before 6am local time, exploded almost immediately, according to military officials in South Korea and the US.

Intelligence agencies in South Korea and the US were attempting to extract more details about the missile, including its exact type.

The test, which was launched from the same site as a KN-15 medium-range ballistic missile on April 5, came hours before US Vice-President Mike Pence arrived in Seoul on Sunday afternoon on his first stop of a 10-day Asian visit, during which he is expected to shore up US support for its allies as Washington steps up pressure on Pyongyang.

Lu Chao, director of the Border Studies Institute at the Liaoning Academy of Social Sciences, said the latest test, despite its failure, could be another defiant message from Pyongyang that it will not change its tough stance in the face of US pressure even amid a growing threat of military action, even though the failure showed that Pyongyang missile technology was flawed.

Such a defiant move was likely to draw even more pressure from the US which ordered its nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group to the region, Lu said.

China would also face greater pressure from the US to take further action, including ratcheting up its sanctions against Pyongyang, he added.

It was widely speculated that the North, which has a history of celebrating important anniversaries by conducting nuclear tests, would carry out its sixth nuclear test on Saturday for the 105th anniversary of the birthday of Kim Il-sung, the country’s late founder and the grandfather of Kim Jong-un, the impoverished nation’s third-generation leader.

It did not, however. Instead it staged a massive military parade to show off its new advanced missiles, including, the first time, multiple Pukkuksong submarine-launched ballistic missiles, which have a range of more than 1,000km, and are likely to be developed further.

On Saturday, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said there would be no winner in a war between the US and North Korea, and said Beijing was ready to cooperate with Moscow to reduce tensions following a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov.

Liu Ming, from the Shanghai Academy of Social Sciences, said Beijing was unlikely to take further action at this stage unless Pyongyang carried out its sixth nuclear test or long-term ballistic missile test as Beijing insisted that talks, not military action, were the only solution to the North Korea issues.

“China needs to create conditions and the right atmosphere to draw different parties back to the talks table,” Liu said.

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