Talks in doubt as North Korea tests missiles

Launch is first since Kim and Trump agreed to restart denuclearisation talks last month

South Koreans watching the news coverage on North Korea's missile launch at Seoul Station yesterday. Seoul said the test posed a military threat. PHOTO: EPA-EFE
South Koreans watching the news coverage on North Korea's missile launch at Seoul Station yesterday. Seoul said the test posed a military threat. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

SEOUL • Pyongyang test-fired two new short-range missiles yesterday, South Korean officials said, the first such launch since North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and US President Donald Trump agreed to revive stalled denuclearisation talks last month.

South Korea's Defence Ministry urged the North to stop acts that are unhelpful to easing tension, saying the test posed a military threat.

It was not immediately clear if the missiles used ballistic technology, which would be a breach of United Nations Security Council resolutions targeting North Korea's missile and nuclear weapons programmes.

North Korea launched the missiles from the east coast city of Wonsan with one flying about 430km and the other, 690km over the sea.

They both reached an altitude of 50km, an official at South Korea's Defence Ministry said.

Some analysts said the North appears to have retested missiles it fired in May, but two South Korean military officials said the missiles appeared to be of a new design.

The launch casts new doubt on efforts to restart denuclearisation talks after Mr Trump and Mr Kim met at the Demilitarised Zone between the two Koreas at the end of last month.

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and North Korean Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho had been expected to meet on the sidelines of a South-east Asian security forum in Bangkok next week.

But a diplomatic source told Reuters yesterday that Mr Ri had cancelled his trip.

North Korea launched the missiles from the east coast city of Wonsan with one flying about 430km and the other, 690km over the sea. They both reached an altitude of 50km, an official at South Korea's Defence Ministry said.

  • N. Korea airline to resume direct Macau flights

  • HONG KONG • North Korea's national airline Air Koryo will resume direct flights from Pyongyang to the gambling enclave of Macau next week after a 15-year hiatus, the Chinese territory's civil aviation authority said.

    With the relaunch of the route that was announced on Tuesday, Macau will become the fourth city with a regular scheduled flight to the North Korean capital after Beijing and Shenyang in China and Vladivostok in Russia.

    Macau's civil aviation authority said in a statement that it had "approved Air Koryo to operate flights between Pyongyang and Macau" twice a week, starting from Aug 2.

    Air Koryo previously operated a flight between the two cities between 1996 and 2004, the statement added.

    Macau, often dubbed the "Las Vegas of Asia" for its massive gambling industry, has a history with North Korea.

    Mr Kim Jong Nam, the half-brother of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, was living in exile in Macau with his wife and children before he was poisoned in a brazen assassination in Kuala Lumpur's airport in 2017.

    Macau's gambling mogul Stanley Ho opened Casino Pyongyang in North Korea in 1999.

    China is by far the biggest source of tourists for the isolated North, with direct flights and a long land border connecting the neighbours, and tens of thousands are believed to visit the reclusive state every year.

    AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

The White House, Pentagon and US State Department did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

South Korea had detected signs prior to the launch and was conducting detailed analysis with the US, the presidential Blue House said in a statement.

Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said the test had no immediate impact on Japan's security, according to Kyodo News.

US National Security Adviser John Bolton made no mention of the launches in a tweet yesterday after a visit to South Korea.

He said he had "productive meetings" on regional security.

South Korea's nuclear envoy Lee Do-hoon had phone calls with his US counterpart Stephen Biegun and his Japanese counterpart Kenji Kanasugi, to share their assessments, South Korea's Foreign Ministry said in a statement.

Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Hua Chunying called for North Korea and the US to reopen negotiations "as early as possible".

After Mr Trump and Mr Kim met last month, the US and North Korea vowed to hold a new round of working-level talks soon, but Pyongyang has since sharply criticised the upcoming joint military drills by US and South Korean troops.

On Tuesday, Mr Kim inspected a large, newly built submarine from which ballistic missiles could be launched.

"By firing missiles, taking issue with military drills and showing a new submarine, the North is sending one clear message: There might be no working-level talks if the United States doesn't present a more flexible stance," said Mr Kim Hong-kyun, a former South Korean nuclear envoy.

Mr Kim Dong-yup, a former navy officer who now teaches at Kyungnam University in Seoul, said the weapons tested yesterday appeared to be the same as the ones tested in May, which were less of a challenge than long-range missiles but "enough to subtly pressure" Washington.

 
 

But the South Korean military believes they may be new, because they travelled farther.

In May, the projectiles flew only 420km and 270km.

"We're very cautious because it's difficult to extend the range within such a short time," said one military official.

Nuclear talks between North Korea and the US had stalled after a second summit between Mr Trump and Mr Kim in Vietnam in February broke down.

REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 26, 2019, with the headline 'Talks in doubt as N. Korea tests missiles'. Subscribe