China, Russia slam latest missile test by North Korea

Government warnings and sirens blare through speakers in Hokkaido, Japan, after North Korea fired a missile that flew over the region.

They join US, allies in criticising Pyongyang's latest launch which signals that Guam is within reach

China and Russia have joined the United States and its allies in condemning North Korea, after it fired a missile that flew over Japan and a distance of some 3,700km - putting the US territory of Guam within reach.

In its third provocative act in three weeks, the North lobbed what was likely a Hwasong-12 intermediate-range ballistic missile over Hokkaido into the Pacific Ocean yesterday, in a seeming repeat of its missile launch on Aug 29.

The two missiles bookend North Korea's sixth and most powerful nuclear test on Sept 3, involving an explosion with way more power than the atomic bomb that flattened Hiroshima during World War II.

Asian stock markets began the day jittery, but later shrugged off news of the launch, with Hong Kong, Tokyo and Seoul closing higher.

North Korean diplomat Choe Kang Il, who was in transit in Beijing, was quoted by Japanese public broadcaster NHK as describing the launch as a "normal part of strengthening our nuclear deterrence".

The missile rewrote records in Pyongyang's tests, flying a distance of 3,700km and hitting an altitude of 770km, 1,000km farther and 220km higher than the Aug 29 test.

It was fired from near Pyongyang at 6.57am (5.57am in Singapore), flying over Hokkaido in north Japan from 7.04am to 7.06am, before splashing into the Pacific at 7.16am.

The launch prompted sirens and alerts, for the second time in under three weeks, for those in 12 northern and north-eastern prefectures.

Yesterday's launch came a day after the North threatened to use its nuclear arsenal to "sink" Japan - which it said "no longer needs to exist near us" - and to reduce the US to "ashes and darkness" in retaliation against the latest United Nations sanctions. On Tuesday, the UN Security Council approved sanctions banning the North's textile exports and capping oil imports.

The council convened an emergency meeting in New York overnight over the latest test.

Observers said the test has put Guam - 3,400km from Pyongyang - in the North's crosshairs. Japan's defence chief Itsunori Onodera said yesterday that he believed North Korea "has Guam in mind".

Last month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un threatened to fire missiles into waters around Guam, a month after he ordered the test launch of two intercontinental ballistic missiles said to be capable of reaching the US mainland.

Yesterday, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urged China and Russia to increase pressure on Pyongyang, saying: "China supplies North Korea with most of its oil. Russia is the largest employer of North Korean forced labour."

Both countries have slammed the launch. China opposes North Korea's ballistic missile launches, said its Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying, while Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said: "We firmly condemn the continuation of such provocative actions."

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe urged the global community to fully implement the UN sanctions.

South Korean President Moon Jae In, a champion of engagement with the North, said dialogue was "impossible at this point". Seoul also test-fired two missiles while Pyongyang's was still in the air.

Singapore's Foreign Ministry said the launch "demonstrated yet again (North Korea's) blatant disregard of the grave concerns of the international community".

Kobe University security expert Tosh Minohara said Japan, as a US ally and with a pacifist Constitution, is a pawn in the North's aggressions against the US. Pyongyang knows firing its missiles towards Japan will cause minimal blowback compared with directly targeting US territory, he said. "You can almost predict how Japan will react," he added, describing Tokyo's response to each provocation as "all bark and no bite".

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 16, 2017, with the headline 'China, Russia slam latest missile test by N. Korea'. Print Edition | Subscribe