North Korea has test-fired a ballistic missile, according to the South Korean and US military, defying pressure from the US and the North’s main ally, China.
US and South Korean officials said Saturday’s test, from an area north of the North Korean capital Pyongyang, appeared to have failed, in what would be a fourth successive unsuccessful missile test since March.
The test came as Rex Tillerson, US secretary of state, gave warning that the UN Security Council that failure to curb North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programmes could lead to “catastrophic consequences”.
US officials, speaking on condition of anonymity, told Reuters the missile was probably a medium-range weapon known as a KN-17 and appeared to have broken up within minutes of taking off.
South Korea’s military said the missile, fired from the Pukchang region in a northeasterly direction, reached an altitude of 71km before disintegrating a few minutes into flight.
Al Jazeera’s Wayne Hay, reporting from Seoul, said: “The failed test launch was inland … possibly it could mean that this was not necessarily new technology and not necessarily a new type of missile that they were testing. Perhaps something they have tested before.
“Obviously, if it is inland, it is going to be launched over potentially populated areas, so there is a certain amount of confidence there, that it is not going to fail, that it is going to fly over those populated areas out to sea before it crashes. It is also possibly a clue that this was a medium-range missile.”
Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, said in London on Saturday that North Korea’s decision to test-fire a ballistic missile represents a grave threat to his country.
He called on the US and China to keep up pressure on North Korea.
“Despite strong warnings by the international community, North Korea today went through its ballistic missile launch,” he said.
“It is a grave threat to our country. This is absolutely not acceptable. We strongly condemn such acts.”
The North has been conducting missile and nuclear weapons related activities at an unprecedented rate since the beginning of the year and is believed to have made some progress in developing intermediate-range and submarine-launched missiles.
The launch comes amid high tensions on the Korean Peninsula and warnings from US President Donald Trump’s administration that it is running out of patience.
“North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!,” Trump said in a post on Twitter after the launch.
On Friday, the US pushed for tougher sanctions to confront the North Korean threat, piling pressure on China to rein in its ally while warning it was keeping military options “on the table”.
But both China and Russia rejected US threat of military force at a meeting of the Security Council on the matter.
Wang Yi, China’s foreign minister, told the 15-member council it was not only up to China to solve the North Korean problem.
“The key to solving the nuclear issue on the peninsula does not lie in the hands of the Chinese side,” Wang told the council.