Japan urges China to pressure North Korea after missile test

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the United Nations Security Council plans to convene an emergency meeting on Monday night (Feb 13) in New York to discuss North Korea.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the United Nations Security Council plans to convene an emergency meeting on Monday night (Feb 13) in New York to discuss North Korea.PHOTO: REUTERS

TOKYO (BLOOMBERG) - Japan urged China to take action against North Korea after it test-fired a ballistic missile over the weekend, the first provocation from President Kim Jong Un's regime since US President Donald Trump took office.

The United Nations Security Council plans to convene an emergency meeting on Monday night (Feb 13) in New York to discuss North Korea, Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told reporters in Tokyo. The country's ability to put a miniaturised nuclear weapon on a missile has risen after the test on Sunday, he said.

"As a permanent member of the Security Council and chair of the six-party talks, and as a country that accounts for 90 per cent of North Korea's trade, China's role is extremely important," Mr Suga said on Monday. "As the government, we'll continue to push China for constructive involvement at various levels."

Prior to taking office, Mr Trump vowed to stop North Korea from acquiring the capability to strike the US with a ballistic missile carrying a nuclear weapon. In a joint briefing with Prime Minister Shinzo Abe in Florida after the latest test, Mr Trump said the US stands by Japan "100 per cent." .

Mr Trump's administration is pushing forward with plans to deploy a missile defence system known as Thaad in South Korea, a move opposed by China, North Korea's primary ally since they fought together in the 1950s against American-backed forces. Beijing accounts for more than 70 per cent of its neighbour's trade, and also provides food and energy aid.

North Korea's nuclear program could be one area for the US and China to find common ground early in Mr Trump's administration, according to policy recommendations released last week from a bipartisan group of 18 China specialists co-chaired by Asia Society and the University of California at San Diego.

Mr Trump moved to ease tensions last week when he agreed to honour the "one China" policy in a call with President Xi Jinping.

Cooperation on North Korea "would be a significant way to help restore a sense of common cause in US-China relations as the Trump administration gets started," said Ms Susan Shirk, a co-author of the report who served in the State Department during the Clinton administration.

"But even if we get there, and China applies greater pressure on Pyongyang, there is no guarantee that Kim will agree to negotiate away his nuclear and missile programs."

South Korea's military said the missile fired on Sunday was believed to be an improved version of the mid-range Musudan model. The projectile flew 500km into its East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan, South Korea's joint chiefs of staff said in a text message.

North Korea fired at least 25 projectiles last year, according to the UN, which bans it from pursuing ballistic missile technology because it could be used to deliver nuclear warheads. Pyongyang also detonated two nuclear devices in 2016.

Mr Kim said on Jan 1 that his country was in the "last stage" of preparations to test-fire an intercontinental ballistic missile, leading Mr Trump to write on Twitter: "It won't happen!" He didn't give specifics of how he would stop Mr Kim's missile development.

The UN Security Council unanimously passed a fresh resolution in late November that tightened sanctions on North Korea, including cutting the country's coal exports, after the regime conducted its fifth nuclear test in September. Australia, which co-sponsored the resolution, will consider further sanctions, it said in a statement on Sunday.

North Korea will probably develop its ballistic missile technology enough to pair with its nuclear weapons to reach the US during Mr Trump's tenure, according to Mr Richard Haass, president of the Council on Foreign Relations.

Either the US gets the Chinese to help increase pressure on North Korea through sanctions, or Mr Trump will have "a truly consequential decision," he said on CNN's "Fareed Zakaria GPS" on Sunday.

"Trump is going to have to face a truly fateful decision about whether we're prepared to live with that, a North Korea that has that capability against us, or we are going to use military force one way or another to destroy their nuclear missile capability," Mr Haass said.