Update: Sec. of State Rex Tillerson has issued the following fascinatingly brief statement:
- “North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile. The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.”
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Picking the worst possible time (or perhaps having it picked for it) to demonstratively launch a rocket, just as Trump and Xi are set to discuss the North Korea nuclear threat, with the US president reportedly prepared to announce that "“If China Is Not Going To Solve North Korea, We Will" and take unilateral action to eliminate any potential threats coming out of North Korea's regime, moments ago South Korea's Yonhap reported that North Korea on morning Wednesday fired a projectile suspected to be a ballistic missile toward the East Sea, military officials said.
The South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff announced, "North Korea fired an unidentified projectile in Sinpo, South Hamgyong Province, into the East Sea."
The launch was from Sinpo, a port city on the North's east coast, and the missile flew about 60 km (40 miles), South Korea's Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a short statement. Sinpo is the site of a North Korean submarine base.
Any launch of objects using the ballistic missile technology is a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions but the North has defied the ban as infringement of its sovereign rights to self defense and pursuit of space exploration, Reuters adds. North Korea attempted to launch a ballistic missile two weeks ago from its east coast and earlier in March fired four missiles toward Japan, some of which came as close as 300 km (190 miles) to Japan's coast.
The North is believed to be developing an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) that can hit the United States and its leader, Kim Jong Un, has vowed to test-launch one at any time. Experts and officials in the South and the United States believe Pyongyang is still some time away from mastering all the technology needed for an operational ICBM system, such as re-entry of the atmosphere and subsequent missile guidance.
Indicatively, topping the agenda of the U.S.-China summit in Florida will be whether Trump will make good on his threat to use crucial trade ties with China to pressure Beijing to do more to rein in the nuclear-armed North.
And while await to see if there will be an immediate retaliation by the US - recall "US Delta Force, SEAL Team 6 Prepare To Take Out Kim Jong-Un, Practice Tactical North Korea "Infiltration" - it is worth noting that just minutes earlier on Tuesday, a White House official said that the clock for resolving the North Korean nuclear issue "has now run out," and the United States is looking at "all options on the table" to deal with the problem, according to Reuters.
The official, who spoke on condition of anonymity to preview the upcoming summit between President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping, also said that how to deal with North Korea is a "test of the relationship" between the U.S. and China.
"We would like to work on North Korea together. There is an opportunity," the official said during a conference call briefing. "We've been ... trying pretty much everything to bring about a safe and denuclearized peninsula. So this is some ways a test of the relationship." The official stressed the urgency of the problem, saying, "The clock is very, very quickly running out.
"We would have loved to see North Korea join the community of nations. They've been given that opportunity over the course of different dialogues and offers over the course of four administrations with some of our best diplomats and statesmen doing the best they could to bring about a resolution," the official said.
Needless to say, random gratuitous ballistic missile launches will not help, and if anything, may prompt the US to retaliate now that both Trump and Tillerson have said any provocation by North Korea will be met with a response.
On Sunday, Trump said in an interview with the Financial Times that China should help with the North Korea problem by using the "great influence" it has over Pyongyang, warning that if it doesn't, the U.S. will solve the problem on its own, and that won't be good for anyone. Trump also said he will use trade as an incentive for China to take action on the North.
On Tuesday, Trump said the North is a "humanity problem," and he will talk about the issue with China's Xi.
"North Korea clearly is a matter of urgent interest for the president and the administration as a whole. I think the president has been pretty clear in messaging how important it is for China to coordinate with the U.S. and for China to begin exerting its considerable economic leverage to bring about a peaceful resolution to that problem," the White House official said.
"Certainly, it is going to come up in their discussions. Somewhere in the order of just shy of 90 percent of North Korea's external trade is with China. Even though we hear sometimes that China's political influence may have diminished, with North Korea, clearly its economic leverage has not. It is considerable and so that will be one of the points of discussion," he said.
The Trump-Xi meetings will also be watched closely as to whether the U.S. stands up to China for bullying South Korea for hosting the U.S. THAAD missile defense system designed to defend better against ever-growing missile threats from North Korea.
The White House official said that the deployment will go ahead as planned.
"We are familiar with China's objections to THAAD. The United States will always act to defend our allies and to defend our homeland against any threat, particularly one of the nature of the North Korean regime with the kinds of terrible weapons that they're developing. There will be no move away from protecting our South Korean allies and the United States," he said. The official also said that China's retaliation against the South is "disturbing."
"South Korea is a responsible, friendly, economically dynamic democracy that is seeking together with its ally, the United States, to put in place defensive systems. It doesn't make much sense and at some levels even is disturbing to be punishing South Korea for wanting to do that," the official said.
"If THAAD is a problem to other countries in the region, they need to look to North Korea," he said.
It is unclear if today's launch provoked Seoul to respond with a THAAD response, one that will be frowned upon be Beijing and other countries in the region.