x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

North Korea test-fires missile again

North Korea fired a short-range missile off its east coast yesterday in defiance of international efforts to disarm the country.

BEIJING // North Korea fired a short-range missile off its east coast yesterday in defiance of international efforts to disarm the country following a second nuclear test this week, but analysts said the sabre rattling was simply a show intended to gain the attention of the United States. North Korea warned that any new sanctions being discussed by the UN Security Council as punishment for Monday's nuclear test would be met with "self-defence measures".

"Should the UN Security Council attempt further provocations, our additional self-defence measures will be inevitable in response," the North's official Korean Central News Agency said. Pyongyang called the five permanent members of the Security Council, including China and Russia which typically avoid censuring their ally, "hypocrites", citing that there had already been 2,053 atomic explosions and that "99.99 per cent" of previous nuclear tests were conducted by the same security council members seeking to censure it.

Even before the latest provocation, the US and South Korea had put their military forces on heightened alert after North Korea on Thursday annulled the Korean War armistice. With tensions high on the peninsula, nearly 300 Chinese fishing ships operating in the Yellow Sea near Korea's border began leaving the area, possibly fearing a nautical clash between the two Koreas, South Korean reports said.

Jang Sung-min, author of the book Peace and War on the Korean Peninsula in the post-Kim Jong-Il Era, said North Korea's continued bellicose rhetoric and sabre rattling this week, was ultimately an expression of displeasure that the country was being ignored by the United States. "North Korea felt ignored," he said. "Even after North Koreans carried out a nuclear test [in Oct 2006] and fired missiles, the US didn't budge."

After the second nuclear test, the US still did not recognise North Korea as a nuclear state and still did not show a sign of a direct negotiation with the North, he said. "Now North Koreans believe it's time to show some real action," Mr Jang said. In a hearing to the House of Representative foreign affairs committee on April 22, Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, prepared a 10-page report outlining major US foreign policy fronts.

They included Afghanistan, Pakistan, the Middle East and Iran. But not North Korea. Pyongyang reacted to the "snub" by announcing it would carry out a second nuclear test this week, followed by the test-firing of several missiles and increased threats to South Korea and Japan. Mr Jang sees all this as North Korea's "careful and detailed road map" to get Washington to engage with it directly. As the US is still using the UN platform for dialogue, Pyongyang's usual method is to challenge the UN, while also making military threats to South Korea and Japan - two key US allies in East Asia.

"The message by North Korea to the US is clear. How can you still ignore us when we are becoming the most important and controversial agenda at the UN, not to mention a grave regional security threat to your Asian allies?" Mr Jang said. As the crisis escalates on the Korean Peninsula, the world is now more than ever keenly awaiting action from China, North Korea's largest economic benefactor. After Monday's nuclear test, China signalled to Pyongyang "not to worsen the situation further," said South Korea's Yonhap News Agency. Apparently, North Korea did not listen.

"I don't know where in the China-North Korea communication failed. But North Korea seemed to turn a deaf ear to China's call," said Xie Tao, an expert on North Korea at Beijing Foreign Studies University. What is worse, with tension between North and South escalating, experts believe there is a real chance for a naval clash in the Yellow Sea. "All this will make the US sit up and take notice," Mr Jang said.

Late yesterday, South Korea announced that its foreign minister, Yu Myung-hwan, would fly to Washington next week for talks with Mrs Clinton. The agenda is North Korea. slee@thenational.ae