South Korea Says Missile Launch "Threatens The Whole World" As Pence Arrives In Seoul

In its first official comments on Sunday morning's failed missile launch, South Korea said the latest North Korean provocation threatens the entire world, and warned of a punitive action if it leads to further actions such as a nuclear test or a long-range missile launch.

"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. “We have to warn again that if this leads to a strategic provocation of a nuclear or ICBM test, the North will face strong punitive measures that it will find hard to endure.”

Shortly after the failed test, U.S. Vice President Mike Pence touched down in South Korea Sunday for his first visit in a five-leg trip to the Asia-Pacific region, being the highest-level official from the Donald Trump administration yet to arrive here amid escalating tensions with the North. The arrival marked Pence’s first-ever visit to the South, and was nine hours after North Korea conducted its fifth ballistic missile test this year earlier in the morning, though it ended in failure.

Pence arrived at the Osan Air Base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi, at 3:30 p.m. but has yet to make any public remarks. A joint statement between him and Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn, who concurrently serves as acting president, is expected to come this afternoon after the two leaders discuss North Korean issues at Hwang’s office in central Seoul.

"This morning’s provocation from the North is just the latest reminder of the risks each one of you face every day,” Pence told a fellowship of U.S. soldiers and Koreans at a dinner in Seoul.

Commenting on the failed launch, Reuters cited a U.S. foreign policy adviser traveling with Pence on Air Force Two who said that the test was believed to be a medium-range missile and had come as no surprise. The unnamed adviser added that the missile’s flight lasted four or five seconds.

“It’s a failed test,” the official said under the condition of anonymity. “It follows another failed test. So really, no need to reinforce their failure. We don’t need to expend any resources against that.

Earlier in the day, US Defense Secretary James Mattis said “the president and his military team are aware of North Korea’s most recent unsuccessful missile launch" and added that “the president has no further comment."

Bloomberg notes that the reaction helps deflate tensions that escalated in recent weeks as President Donald Trump sent warships to the region amid speculation that Kim Jong Un’s regime would conduct a nuclear or intercontinental ballistic missile test to mark the country’s biggest holiday. Still, the long-term risk remains: Trump has said military options are on the table and threatened to act unilaterally if China -- North Korea’s main ally and benefactor -- fails to do more to curb its neighbor’s activities.

China’s State Councilor Yang Jiechi and U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson also exchanged views on the situation on the Korean Peninsula by phone on Sunday, China’s foreign ministry said, without giving more details.

Meanwhile, Pence, joined by his wife Karen and two daughters, began his three-day schedule Sunday with a visit to the Seoul National Cemetery in Dongjak District, southern Seoul. An official at South Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the visit, which wasn’t mentioned in his initial schedule announced by the White House earlier this month, highlighted Washington’s commitment to the South Korea-U.S. alliance, a “bond that was made during the Korean War when the South fought alongside the U.S.”

Vice President Mike Pence burns incense at the Seoul National Cemetery
in Dongjak District, southern Seoul, Sunday

Pence’s father, Edward Pence, was a U.S. Army veteran in the 1950-53 Korean War who later earned the Bronze Star. After his visit to the cemetery, the vice president was planned to spend Easter Sunday with U.S. and South Korean troops and their families in the evening.

This morning, Pence will visit the demilitarized zone separating the two Koreas and drop by Camp Bonifas to meet with U.S. Army soldiers. Later, he will meet Prime Minister Hwang and Foreign Affairs Minister Yun Byung-se at the Seoul Central Government Complex.  Pence is also scheduled to meet National Assembly Speaker Chung Sye-kyun, apparently to learn more about South Korea’s political landscape and the ongoing presidential election campaign.

Tomorrow, Pence will meet business leaders at the American Chamber of Commerce and then leave for Japan. The White House said in a statement last Friday that Second Lady Karen Pence will “observe an art therapy program and participate in a roundtable discussion with art therapists.” Pence is the third senior government official from the Trump administration to visit South Korea, a month after Secretary of State Rex Tillerson came on March 17 and two months after Secretary of Defense James Mattis came on Feb. 2.

While the White House said Pence will mostly be dealing with business issues on a 10-day swing through Asia, administration officials said Thursday that he will also discuss economic sanctions and military options for North Korea if a provocation occurs. He will meet with Acting President Hwang Kyo-ahn, who is looking after the South Korean government before an election to choose a successor to the ousted Park Geun-hye. Candidates for the May 9 vote were quick to condemn the latest missile test. The frontrunner, Moon Jae-in of the left-leaning Democratic Party of Korea, called it “reckless,” according to a spokesman. A representative for his main rival, Ahn Cheol-soo of the centrist People’s Party, said there is no justification for North Korea to escalate tensions on the peninsula.

* * *

Kim’s regime has test-fired ballistic missiles five times this year in his quest to develop a device that can carry a nuclear warhead to North America. He has launched dozens of projectiles and conducted three nuclear tests since coming to power after his father’s death in 2011, and claimed in January to be almost ready to test-fire an ICBM. As tensions mounted last week, Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi on Friday urged all parties “to stop provoking and threatening each other and not to make the situation irretrievable."

Kim showed off a range of long-range missiles at an elaborate military parade on Saturday, including submarine-launched ballistic missiles for the first time and what appeared to be a new ICBM, South Korea’s Yonhap News reported. In 2012, North Korea unveiled long-range missiles that some arms analysts dismissed as fake.