SEOUL/UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) – The United Nations condemned North Korea’s “outrageous” firing of a ballistic missile over Japan, demanding that the isolated country halts its weapons programme but holding back on any threat of new sanctions.
North Korea said the launch of an intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) on Tuesday was to counter US and South Korean military drills and was a first step in military action in the Pacific to “contain” the US territory of Guam.
The North’s leader, Kim Jong-un, ordered the launch to be conducted for the first time from its capital, Pyongyang, and said more exercises with the Pacific as the target were needed, the North’s KCNA news agency said yesterday.
“The current ballistic rocket launching drill like a real war is the first step of the military operation of the KPA in the Pacific and a meaningful prelude to containing Guam,” KCNA quoted Mr Kim as saying. KPA stands for the Korean People’s Army.
North Korea this month threatened to fire four missiles into the sea near Guam, home to a major US military presence, after President Donald Trump said the North would face “fire and fury” if it threatened the US.
Renewing his tough rhetoric, Mr Trump yesterday wrote on Twitter, “The U.S. has been talking to North Korea, and paying them extortion money, for 25 years. Talking is not the answer!”
For its part, the US defence department’s Missile Defence Agency announced a “complex” and successful missile defence flight test off Hawaii yesterday, intercepting a medium-range ballistic missile target.
The 15-member Security Council said it was of “vital importance” that North Korea take immediate, concrete actions to reduce tension and called on all states to implement UN sanctions.
Diplomats say veto-wielding council members China and Russia typically only view a test of a long-range missile or a nuclear weapon as a trigger for further possible sanctions.
China’s and Russia’s ambassadors to the UN said they opposed any unilateral sanctions on North Korea and reiterated calls to halt deployment of a US missile defence system in South Korea.
Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi said China was discussing the situation with other Security Council members and would make a “necessary response” based on the consensus reached.
China is the North’s lone major ally. “Any measures against North Korea should be under the UN Security Council framework, and should be carried out according to Security Council resolutions,” he told a news briefing.
Unilateral sanctions did not accord with international law, Mr Wang added, a reference to sanctions imposed on Chinese firms and citizens by the US and Japan.
Speaking during a visit to the Japanese city of Osaka, British Prime Minister Theresa May called on China to put more pressure on North Korea, saying Beijing had a key role to play.
Asked about her comments, Chinese foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said some “relevant sides” were only selectively carrying out the UN resolutions by pushing hard on sanctions yet neglecting to push for a return to talks.
She said this was not the attitude “responsible countries” should have when the “smell of gunpowder” remained strong over the Korean peninsula.
“When it comes to sanctions, they storm to the front but when it comes to pushing for peace they hide at the very back,” Ms Hua told a daily news briefing.