North Korea missile launch raises arms race concerns

North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Hwasong-14 being lauched at an undisclosed place in North Korea.
North Korea's intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), Hwasong-14 being lauched at an undisclosed place in North Korea. PHOTO: AFP

ICBM said to be able to reach major US cities; world leaders condemn latest provocation

Friday night's launch by North Korea of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM), which experts say could reach major United States cities, has drawn widespread condemnation, including from Singapore, and raised the spectre of a potential regional arms race.

South Korea and the US launched four missiles and conducted a live-firing drill in an immediate show of force, and agreed to start negotiations to allow Seoul to build more powerful ballistic missiles to counter the growing threat from the North.

The ICBM, which was launched around 11.41pm (10.41pm Singapore time) on Friday from the north-western province of Chagang, which shares a border with China, flew about 45 minutes, going 3,700km high and for a distance of 1,000km before landing in waters within Japan's exclusive economic zone.

It was North Korea's second ICBM launch this month, with its leader Kim Jong Un quoted as saying that "the whole US mainland" is now within reach.

A statement from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs yesterday, condemning the launch, said such "provocative acts are also serious breaches of United Nations Security Council resolutions and ignore the grave concerns of the international community".

US President Donald Trump said the North's "reckless and dangerous" act will further isolate it. "The US will take all necessary steps to ensure the security of the American homeland and protect our allies in the region," he added.

 
 

US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged China and Russia to "bear unique and special responsibility for this growing threat" to global stability. China's Foreign Ministry warned the North against escalating tensions, adding that it is closely watching the situation.

Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe blasted Pyongyang's blatant disregard of global warnings, adding that the launch "shows the threat to our nation's safety is severe and real". He said Japan, which was considering buying ballistic missile defence systems from the US, will work closely with major powers to strengthen pressure against the North.

In Seoul, President Moon Jae In gave orders to bolster strategic deterrence against the North, including stronger sanctions and deploying additional launchers of a US missile shield installed in South Korea.

Analysts said the fact that the missile flew 900km higher and eight minutes longer than the Hwasong-14 on July 4 showed significant advancement by North Korea in terms of range and its ability to launch surprise attacks.

The US-based Union of Concerned Scientists said the missile would have a range of 10,400km if flown on a standard trajectory and could, in theory, be able to strike major US cities including Los Angeles, Chicago and New York.

Dr Bong Young Shik of South Korea's Yonsei University's Institute for North Korean Studies noted that Chagang province is not a usual launch site. This means the US must be prepared for surprise attacks from multiple locations, he said.

Professor Shi Yinhong of China's Renmin University said North Korea's second missile test in a month shows that global pressure has been "practically ineffective".

As to whether Beijing will exert more pressure on Pyongyang, he said: "Trump has turned hostile towards China... I think China's zeal for putting greater pressure on North Korea will not be as great." •Additional reporting by Goh Sui Noi in Beijing.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on July 30, 2017, with the headline 'N. Korea missile launch raises arms race concerns'. Print Edition | Subscribe