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North Korea fires missile as Trump-Xi summit looms

North Korea has fired a missile into the Sea of Japan, with the latest provocative gesture from Pyongyang coming just days before US President Donald Trump meets his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping.

The Pentagon said North Korea had fired the missile at 6.42am local time on Wednesday and that it had landed in the sea nine minutes later. It said the rocket, believed to be a medium-range missile that could not reach the US, was fired from a land-based facility near Sinpo.

South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said the missile had flown about 60km.

The launch comes as Mr Trump prepares to host Mr Xi at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida in their first meeting. North Korea is expected to be one of the top issues on the agenda.

“North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile,” Rex Tillerson, US secretary of state, said in a statement on Tuesday. “The United States has spoken enough about North Korea. We have no further comment.”

Last month North Korea fired four ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan, with three landing within 300km of Japan’s coast. Another launch later in March ended in failure. 

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has vowed to test fire a nuclear-capable intercontinental ballistic missile with the potential to reach the US mainland, although experts believe Pyongyang has yet to master the technology needed for such a move. South Korean intelligence agencies have in recent weeks warned that Pyongyang may be planning its sixth test of an atomic weapon.

The Financial Times on Sunday reported that Mr Trump plans to urge China to put more pressure on Pyongyang to convince the regime to abandon its nuclear programme.

In an interview with the FT, Mr Trump said: “China has great influence over North Korea. And China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won’t. If they do, that will be very good for China, and if they don’t, it won’t be good for anyone.”

But Mr Trump made clear that the US was prepared to act alone if China did not do more to tackle the threat from Pyongyang and Kim Jong Un, the North Korean dictator. “Well if China is not going to solve North Korea, we will. That is all I am telling you,” he said.

Speaking ahead of the Trump-Xi summit, which will take place on Thursday and Friday, a US official said Mr Trump would “be sending a clear signal to Mr Xi”. He said Washington hoped Beijing would work closely with the US to step up the pressure on Pyongyang, including by taking a more aggressive approach to enforcing UN sanctions. But he made clear that the US was watching the Chinese response very closely.

“This is in some ways a test of the relationship,” the official said.

Michael Auslin, an Asia expert at the American Enterprise Institute, said Mr Kim was trying to create “yet another mini crisis atmosphere” before the Trump-Xi summit.

“From another perspective, however, it may make things more difficult for Xi, who will be torn between preventing any real actions against Kim, but not wanting to be seen as protecting him,” he added.

Mr Trump has made North Korea his top foreign policy priority after Barack Obama told him after his election that Pyongyang posed the most imminent national security threat to the US. In a separate interview last Friday, KT McFarland, the deputy White House national security adviser, said the threat from North Korea had reached a critical juncture.

“There is a real possibility that North Korea will be able to hit the US with a nuclear-armed missile by the end of the first Trump term,” she told the FT.

The US official said policies over the past two decades had failed to stop North Korea from developing its nuclear and missile programme and that it was time for a new approach.

“The clock has now run out and all options are on the table,” the official said.

Evan Medeiros, managing director at Eurasia Group and a former top Asia adviser to Mr Obama, said: “Kim is once again crying out for attention and trying to put pressure on both Trump and Xi in advance of the big summit.”

Follow Demetri Sevastopulo on Twitter: @dimi

Via FT

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