North Korea’s latest ballistic missile test triggered swift condemnation Sunday from the international community as the hermit nation’s move challenges President Trump in his first month in office.
South Korea’s defense ministry quickly charged in a statement that Kim Jong Un’s missile launch — probably a medium- or intermediate-range missile — was “aimed at drawing global attention to the North by boasting its nuclear and missile capabilities.”
“It is also believed that it was an armed provocation to test the response from the new U.S. administration under President Trump,” the defense ministry said.
The launch came as Trump was hosting Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at his Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. Trump and Abe made a joint appearance Saturday night to condemn the launch just hours after the missile test was confirmed, with Abe calling it “absolutely intolerable.”
Trump, in his brief statement with Abe, said only “that the United States of America stands behind Japan, it’s great ally, 100%.” But the president’s policy adviser, Stephen Miller, told Fox News Sunday that Trump is sending an “unmistakable signal to North Korea and to the entire world.”
Miller said Trump is determined to “reinforce and strengthen our vital alliances in the Pacific region as part of our strategy to deter and prevent the increasing hostility that we’ve seen in recent years from the North Korean regime.”
David Straub, who headed the State Department’s office of Korean affairs from 2002 to 2004, said Trump’s comments while next to Abe were puzzling for their lack of substance, particularly after he strongly criticized Kim’s talk last month about testing an intercontinental ballistic missile.
“It looked both weak and incompetent,” Straub said in an interview. “Here he is standing beside Prime Minister Abe, and he says ‘We are standing 100% behind our allies in Japan.’ Well, the most affected by this is our allies in South Korea, and he didn’t say a word about South Korea. It’s an incredible omission, and it will be noted by the South Koreans.”
NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg urged North Korea “not to raise tensions further and to re-engage in a credible and meaningful dialogue with the international community.” The European Union said in a statement that North Korea’s “repeated disregard of its international obligations is provocative and unacceptable.”
The Italian foreign ministry said North Korea’s “repeated missile tests,” combined with its development of a nuclear arsenal, “constitute a threat to peace and to international security.” A top Russian foreign affairs official said North Korea’s behavior “is a definite challenge to all of us.”
The missile test is “a reminder that we should not relax and should understand that the situation of the (Korean) peninsula is quite unstable and may turn into a hot conflict,” Leonid Slutsky, head of the foreign affairs committee in Russia’s lower house of Russia’s parliament, said Sunday, according to the Interfax news agency.
The test by Kim — who has plainly stated his nuclear ambitions and has repeatedly launched missile tests — offered his first provocation of the year.
The U.S. Strategic Command said it detected and tracked what it assessed to be a medium- or intermediate-range missile that traveled about 300 miles and splashed into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.
The launch came less than two days after Trump, with Abe by his side, said Friday that defending against nuclear and missile threats from North Korea was a “very, very high priority.” Trump’s comment offered a pointed shift from some of his remarks about North Korea and security in the region during his run for the White House.
While campaigning, Trump’s public comments often raised concerns for many in southeast Asia about his commitment to the region. Trump said he stood ready to speak with Kim to persuade him to abandon his nuclear ambitions.
Trump also jabbed at Japan on the stump, naming it along with China and Mexico as countries where the U.S is “getting absolutely crushed on trade.” He also grumbled about Japan’s military alliance with the United States, saying the U.S. provided security with little risk or cost for the Japanese.
After his election, Trump created waves in the region by speaking directly with Taiwan’s leader, Tsai Ing-wen, and suggesting he wanted concessions from China for his administration to maintain the long-standing “one China” policy. The policy, in place since 1979, accepts China’s view of Taiwan as a breakaway province.
The comment by Trump raised the ire of Chinese President Xi Jinping. But Trump took steps last week to mend relations with a call to the Chinese leader in which he embraced the “one China” policy and backed down from his threat to review Taiwan’s status.
North Korea launched several midrange ballistic missile tests last year, and Kim said in a New Year’s speech that North Korea was close to testing an intercontinental ballistic missile.
After Kim announced his intention to test an ICBM, Trump vowed that “won’t happen.” During a visit to South Korea this month, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis reaffirmed plans to deploy a U.S. missile defense system in South Korea this year, a step that Beijing opposes.
Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said the latest missile test should “only steel our resolve to deploy missile defense systems.”
“It’s time the regime had to face consequences for its behavior and that we said ‘Enough is enough,’” Cotton said.