North Korea sends another missile over Japan, putting more heat on China

Too close for comfort.
Too close for comfort.
Image: Reuters/Issei Kato
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A day after North Korea threatened to sink Japan into the sea, Pyongyang today (Sept. 15) sent another missile over Japan, South Korea’s military and Japanese officials said. The missile, launched shortly before 7:00am local time, flew around 3,700 kilometers (2,300 miles) and landed in the ocean east of Japan.

On Aug. 29, North Korea fired a Hwasong-12 missile over Japan, which took a similar flight path, according to the Kyodo news agency.

The United Nations, which just met on Monday to impose a new round of sanctions that included capping North Korea’s oil imports and banning its textile exports, will now meet again today to talk about the latest launch, at the request of the US and Japan.

The latest missile launch puts new pressure on China—along with Russia, it’s seen as the reason the sanctions imposed earlier this week didn’t include a full oil embargo, as the US had wanted. The most recent US sanctions draft had also included items like freezing the assets of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un and top officials, and of state-run airline Air Koryo, but these were eventually left out.

After the latest missile test, US secretary of state Rex Tillerson called on China and Russia to take more unilateral action against North Korea.

Monday’s move was the ninth round of sanctions and one that shows the increasingly tough balance for the US in dealing with North Korea. The US must demonstrate its resolve against Pyongyang, while at the same time leave something on the table to use as a stick or include in future sanctions—and also postpone for as long as possible a confrontation with China over an oil embargo, even if it means new sanctions are increasingly incremental.

China opposes a full oil embargo because it fears a collapse of the North Korean regime that would see refugees flood across their shared border, or lead to a possible reunification of the two Koreas.

“How long can you continue to slice the loaf thinner and thinner? There’s just a physical limit to how thin you can slice a loaf of bread,” Joshua Pollack, editor of the Nonproliferation Review, told Quartz ahead of the latest sanctions. “You can keep whacking away till you get the limits of what China is willing to do, but then what?”

This post was corrected Sept. 15. An earlier version stated the missile landed in the ocean north of Japan.