SEOUL/GUAM (Reuters) – North Korea dismissed warnings by US President Donald Trump that it would face “fire and fury” if it threatened the United States and outlined detailed plans yesterday for a missile strike near the US Pacific territory of Guam.
Experts in South Korea said the plans unveiled by the reclusive North ratcheted up risks significantly, since Washington was likely to view any missile aimed at its territory as a provocation, even if launched as a test.
North Korea’s apparently rapid progress in developing nuclear weapons and missiles capable of reaching the US mainland has fuelled tensions that erupted into a war of words between Washington and Pyongyang this week, unnerving regional powers and global investors.
World stocks fell for a third day after North Korea said it was finalising plans to fire four intermediate-range missiles over Japan to land 30-40km from Guam, adding detail to a plan first announced on Wednesday.
Guam, a tropical island more than 3,000km to the southeast of North Korea, is home to about 163,000 people and a US Navy installation that includes a submarine squadron, a coastguard group and an air base.
As announced by North Korea, the planned path of the missiles would cross some of the world’s busiest sea and air traffic routes.
The North Korean army would complete its plans in mid-August, ready for leader Kim Jong-un’s order, state-run KCNA news agency reported, citing Gen Kim Rak-gyom, commander of the Strategic Force of the Korean People’s Army.
“The Hwasong-12 rockets to be launched by the KPA [Korean People’s Army] will cross the sky above Shimane, Hiroshima and Koichi Prefectures of Japan,” the report said. “They will fly 3,356.7km for 1,065 seconds and hit the waters 30 to 40km away from Guam.”
While North Korea regularly threatens to destroy the US and its allies, the report was unusual in its detail.
“Even if the North’s missiles do not hit the ocean territory of Guam, the US will not tolerate such a provocation simply because it is a severe threat to its national security,” said Cha Do-hyeogn, visiting researcher at the Asian Institute for Policy Studies in Seoul.
Masao Okonogi, professor emeritus at Japan’s Keio University, said before the latest KCNA report that Pyongyang may be issuing
a warning or advance notice of changes to its missile testing programme rather than threatening an attack.
“I believe this is a message saying they plan to move missile tests from the Sea of Japan to areas around Guam,” he said.
“By making this advance notice, they are also sending a tacit message that what they are going to do is not an actual attack.”
Major airlines that fly over the region however said they had so far made no plans to change flight paths.
“Sound dialogue is not possible with such a guy bereft of reason, and only absolute force can work on him,” KCNA said of Mr Trump. It said Mr Trump’s comments on Tuesday that any threats by North Korea would be “met with fire and fury like the world has never seen” were “a load of nonsense”.
Visitors and residents on Guam appeared to be taking things in their stride. The main beach front on the island was packed with tourists dozing under trees or on the sun loungers of five-star hotels lined up before a calm sea.
Governor Eddie Calvo said Guam had experienced a Japanese invasion in World War II and countless earthquakes and super-typhoons, and there was no US community better prepared to meet the North Korean threat.
“We are concerned about these threats but at the same time we also want to make sure people don’t panic and go on with their lives. Enjoy the beaches,” he said.