NKorean missile launch may be testing rivals, not technology

Elias Hubbard
May 29, 2017

The short-range projectile flew for several minutes before landing in the Sea of Japan (East Sea) - the latest in a series of launches that have ratcheted up tensions over the North's bid to develop weapons capable of hitting the United States.

The missile, which appears to be a Scud variant, was sacked at 5:39am from Wonsan off North Korea's east coast and flew 450km toward Japan, according to South Korean military officials.

U.S. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, asked what a military conflict with North Korea might look like if diplomacy failed, warned on Sunday that would be "probably the worst kind of fighting in most people's lifetimes".

Japanese Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said what appeared to be a North Korean ballistic missile fell within Japan's exclusive maritime economic zone.

North Korea is still thought to be several years away from its goal of being able to target United States mainland cities with a nuclear ICBM, but each new test puts it closer to success.

"As we agreed at the recent G7, the issue of North Korea is a top priority for the global community", Abe told reporters in brief televised remarks.

The JCS is still working to determine exactly what type of missile it was but said early signs indicate it was not an intercontinental ballistic missile but a scud-type missile.

North Korea is still thought to be several years away from its goal of being able to target US mainland cities with a nuclear ICBM, but each new test puts it closer to success.

Pyongyang's action was immediately reported to President Moon Jae-in, who ordered related government officials to convene a National Security Council meeting at 7:30 a.m., the JCS added.

Under its leader's direction, the rogue state has in recent weeks tested its intermediate-range ballistic missile, making some technical advances. North Korea has a large stockpile of the short-range missiles, originally developed by the Soviet Union.

In Washington, a National Security Council spokesman said Trump had been briefed on the launch. Kim may have deliberately fired it toward waters that are claimed by both Japan and South Korea to foment discord between the nations and undermine cooperation with the U.S., according to Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, California.

"There are not many negative factors in the market for the Kospi, and demand seems still strong enough to push the index up a bit more", said Kim Ji-hyung, a stock analyst at Hanyang Securities. Outside analysts believe North Korea may be able to arm some of its shorter-range missiles with nuclear warheads, though the exact state of its secretive weapons program is unknown.

North Korea already deploys Scud-class missiles for combat use.

The nonfarm payrolls report was likely to show that labour market conditions remain solid, which he said "will support the expectation that the Fed is likely to hike rates".

"I don't think North Korea has put a missile into the disputed area before, so I doubt this is a coincidence". But a day earlier, the North said leader Kim Jong Un had watched a separate, successful test of a new type of anti-aircraft guided weapon system.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe told reporters that "North Korea's provocation by ignoring repeated warnings from the worldwide society is absolutely unacceptable". The report didn't say when the test happened.

"The missile technology tests themselves do seem to be the priority of the North Korean regime, to get their technology as strong as possible, as quickly as possible, because they feel this is their best way forward - to show their own ability to defend themselves against a Trump administration they can not predict", Penn told Al Jazeera.

Suga said Japanese officials will discuss North Korea with a senior foreign policy adviser to Chinese President Xi Jinping, Yang Jiechi, who is scheduled to visit Japan later Monday.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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