North Korea’s penchant for attention-getting military displays came up short after a failed attempt to demonstrate a medium-range missile that could reach targets in South Korea or Japan, including US military bases.
Even incorrigible gloater Donald Trump failed to wallow in the schadenfreude. The White House didn’t comment on the news, but US Defense Secretary James Mattis issued a terse statement on the administration’s behalf.
“The president and his military team are aware of North Korea’s most recent unsuccessful missile launch,” the Department of Defense said. “The president has no further comment.”
However, US Vice President Mike Pence is traveling in Asia to discuss trade and security with leaders there; his plane touched down in South Korea hours after the test.
“This morning’s provocation from the north is just the latest reminder of the risks each one of you face each and every day in the defense of the freedom of the people of South Korea and the defense of America in this part of the world,” he told some of the nearly 30,000 American military personnel stationed there.
A national security official traveling with Pence told the reporters accompanying him that that the US monitored the missile launch closely and that it failed after about five seconds.
That official noted that medium-range missile tests are “unfortunately” common, but that a nuclear test—which North Korean leader Kim Jong Un has also warned of—would bring new repercussions from the US. American and regional security forces are still on alert for a potential atomic demonstration, with concerns rising about potential conflict on the Korean peninsula.
Chinese officials have not yet commented on the missile test, but US and Chinese diplomats spoke on Sunday about the situation in North Korea. Beijing has been facing pressure from the international community to do more to restrain North Korea. Last week, China began restricting coal exports to the isolated dictatorship, and threatened to reduce the oil trade if North Korea continued its provocative acts.
Already, foreign policy is influencing whether Trump keeps or abandons his campaign promises. The president noted on twitter that attacking China as a currency manipulator—a regular practice of his on the campaign trail—wouldn’t make the burgeoning world power more likely to pressure North Korea.
Two days ago, China’s foreign minister warned against threatening acts. ”We call upon all the parties, no matter verbally or in action, to stop provoking and threatening each other and not to allow the situation to become irretrievable and out of control,” minister Wang Yi said.
Before the failed launch, North Korea held a military parade that included displays of several new missiles, including several that could be launched from a submarine.