North Korean leader Kim Jong Un said the test-firing of a missile over Japan on Tuesday was a “meaningful prelude” to containing the American territory of Guam, adding he will continue to watch the response of the U.S. before deciding on further action. Kim guided the firing of the intermediate-range strategic ballistic rocket and urged his military to conduct more such launches into the Pacific Ocean in the future, according to a statement from the official Korean Central News Agency. The missile firing was part of “muscle-flexing” to protest annual military exercises being held between the U.S. and South Korea, KCNA said. North Korea had threatened earlier this month to launch missiles over Japan toward Guam, which prompted warnings of retaliation from American military officials.
It was the first North Korean projectile to fly over Japanese airspace since the regime launched a rocket over Okinawa in 2016, and undermines nascent hopes for dialogue over Kim’s weapons programs. That’s after tensions had appeared to cool following a war of words between U.S. President Donald Trump and Kim earlier this month. In separate calls U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson agreed with his Japanese and South Korean counterparts the test was “was an escalation of North Korean provocations and showcased the dangerous threat posed by North Korea.” The United Nations Security Council said in a statement it “strongly condemns” the launch, the Associated Press reported.
China is working with the security council in response to the tests, but doesn’t favor unilateral sanctions against North Korea, Foreign Minister Wang Yi said at briefing in Beijing on Wednesday. “China and the DPRK are neighbors, we have a traditionally friendly relationship,” Wang said, referring to North Korea’s formal name. “This is a fact, but at the same time the behavior of the DPRK has violated UN Security Council resolutions and as a member of the security council and a responsible major country…it is necessary for us to make our opposition clear.”
The KCNA report said the launch was the first of its kind from the capital. The missile was fired from Pyongyang Airport, according to The James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies North Korea Missile Test Database. KCNA said that Kim approved the missile test to “make the cruel Japanese islanders insensible on bloody August 29 when the disgraceful ‘Korea-Japan Annexation Treaty’ was proclaimed 107 years ago.”
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe on Tuesday called the launch “an unprecedented, grave and serious threat,” while Trump reiterated that “all options” are under consideration in response to Pyongyang’s actions. Abe and South Korean President Moon Jae-in agreed in a call Wednesday to raise pressure on North Korea to the “maximum” level, according to a statement by Moon spokesman Park Su-hyun.
“The world has received North Korea’s latest message loud and clear: this regime has signaled its contempt for its neighbors, for all members of the United Nations, and for minimum standards of acceptable international behavior,” Trump said in a statement Tuesday. Still, the U.S. response to far has avoided the heated rhetoric of earlier this month, when Trump warned of “fire and fury” against the regime if it continued to threaten the U.S. Stocks in Asia rebounded Wednesday after Trump’s statement, while the yen fell against the dollar.
North Korea has shown recent advancements in its technology by testing intercontinental ballistic missiles at high altitudes, reflecting progress toward being able to reach the continental U.S. with a nuclear warhead. That has happened despite further international sanctions aimed at squeezing Kim’s economy. North Korea has said it won’t place its nuclear program on the negotiating table unless the U.S. drops its “hostile” policies. It has strongly protested the military drills between the U.S. and South Korea, saying they are aimed at regime change and could spark an accidental war.