A North Korean missile “blew up almost immediately” on its test launch on Sunday, the US Pacific Command said, hours before US Vice-President Mike Pence landed in South Korea for talks on the North’s increasingly defiant arms programme.
The failed launch from North Korea’s east coast, ignoring repeated admonitions from major ally China, came a day after North Korea held a grand military parade in its capital, marking the birth anniversary of the state founder, displaying what appeared to be new long-range ballistic missiles.
China’s top diplomat, Yang Jiechi, and US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson exchanged views on the “situation on the Korean peninsula” by phone on Sunday, China’s official Xinhua News Agency said. Yang said the two sides should maintain dialogue.
South Korea said the North’s combined show of force “threatened the whole world” but a US foreign policy adviser travelling with Pence on Air Force Two appeared to defuse some of the tension, saying the test of what was believed to be a medium-range missile had come as no surprise.
“We had good intelligence before the launch and good intelligence after the launch,” the adviser said on condition of anonymity.
“It’s a failed test. It follows another failed test. So really no need to reinforce their failure. We don’t need to expend any resources against that.”
Pence is in Seoul at the beginning of a 10-day trip to Asia in what his aides said was a sign of US commitment to its ally in the face of rising tension. The US nuclear-powered USS Carl Vinson aircraft carrier strike group is also heading to the region.
A US Navy attack on a Syrian airfield this month raised questions about US President Donald Trump’s plans for reclusive North Korea, which has conducted several missile and nuclear tests in defiance of UN sanctions, regularly threatening to destroy the South and the United States. The White House has said Trump has put the North “on notice”.
South Korea, which hosts 28,500 US troops, warned of punitive action if the Sunday launch led to further provocation.
“North Korea showing a variety of offensive missiles at yesterday’s military parade and daring to fire a ballistic missile today is a show of force that threatens the whole world,” South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement. Pence, addressing an Easter service with American troops in South Korea, said the US commitment to South Korea was unwavering.
“Let me assure you under President Trump’s leadership, our resolve has never been stronger. Our commitment to this historic alliance with the courageous people of South Korea has never been stronger.”
The North has warned of a nuclear strike against the US if provoked. It has said it has developed and would launch a missile that can strike the mainland United States but officials and experts believe it is some time away from mastering the necessary technology, including miniaturising a nuclear warhead.
Saturday’s parade combined with Sunday’s failed launch made a sixth nuclear test increasingly likely, and if one was carried out, China would be compelled to support new sanctions against North, the Global Times said.