Defiant exercise:  North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is surrounded by cheering soldiers and officials after he guided the launch of Pukguksong-2, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang on Monday.   Picture: REUTERS
Defiant exercise: North Korean leader Kim Jong-un is surrounded by cheering soldiers and officials after he guided the launch of Pukguksong-2, in this undated photo released by North Korea's Korean Central News Agency in Pyongyang on Monday. Picture: REUTERS

Seoul — The UN Security Council was to hold an urgent meeting later on Monday after North Korea announced it had successfully tested a new ballistic missile, a launch seen as a challenge to President Donald Trump.

The North’s leader Kim Jong-un "expressed great satisfaction over the possession of another powerful nuclear attack which adds to the tremendous might of the country", state news agency KCNA said.

Permanent Security Council members China and Russia joined a chorus of international criticism of Sunday’s launch by the nuclear-armed nation from near the city of Kusong.

A request for a council meeting was made by the US, Japan and South Korea.

North Korea is barred under UN resolutions from carrying out ballistic missile launches or nuclear weapons tests. But in 2016, it conducted two nuclear tests and numerous missile launches in its quest to develop a nuclear weapons system capable of hitting the US mainland.

The latest missile — said by Pyongyang to be able to carry a nuclear warhead — flew east for about 500km before falling into the Sea of Japan (East Sea), South Korea’s defence ministry said.

Footage on the North’s state television showed the missile being moved on a newly developed mobile erector launcher. It was launched at a near-vertical angle, igniting in mid-air after lift-off and switching direction while in flight.

Photos released by KCNA showed the missile blasting into the sky with a smiling Kim watching from the command centre and standing on the launch field surrounded by cheering soldiers and scientists.

It said Kim "personally guided" preparations for Sunday’s test of what it described as a surface-to-surface "medium long range" Pukguksong-2, a "Korean-style new type strategic weapon system".

KCNA said the missile was powered by a solid-fuel engine, which needs a far shorter refuelling time than conventional liquid fuel-powered missiles, said Yun Duk-Min of the Institute for Foreign Affairs and Security in Seoul.

"They leave little warning time and therefore pose a greater threat to opponents," he said, adding that such missiles are harder to detect by satellite before launch.

The North has previously made claims for its weapons capabilities that analysts consider unconvincing. But Seoul’s military confirmed the North’s claim on the solid-fuel engine.

Pyongyang’s latest announcement was the first time a Pukguksong-2 has been mentioned, although last August, it test-fired what it said was a submarine-launched ballistic missile (SLBM) marked as a Pukguksong-1, a name that translates as North Star.

Kim said at the time that the missile put the US mainland and the Pacific within striking range. An official with South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff told reporters the Pukguksong-2 appeared to have been fired based on the same "cold launch" technology used in 2016’s SLBM test. The method — in which a missile is initially propelled by compressed gas before its engine ignites mid-air — is considered safer. It is also easier to hide the launch location.

The South has said that Sunday’s launch was intended as a test for Trump, who responded by pledging "100%" support for Washington’s key regional ally Japan. Trump has pressed China, the north’s sole major ally and key trade partner, to play a bigger role in restraining its wayward neighbour.

In Tokyo, Japan’s top government spokesman Yoshihide Suga said that China played an "extremely important" role and called on Beijing to take "constructive action".

China’s foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said the country opposed North Korean missile launches that violated UN resolutions.

Russia’s foreign ministry called the launch "a demonstration of contempt for UN Security Council resolutions". But Joel Wit, a senior fellow at the US-Korea Institute at Johns Hopkins University, said more provocations were likely in response to upcoming US-South Korean military exercises.

AFP

Please login or register to comment.