BEIJING — The U.S. army and the South Korean military responded to North Korea’s July 4 test missile test by hosting joint military exercises, firing missiles off the eastern coast of South Korea in what Pacific Command called an “ironclad” show of resolve.
The move came shortly after the U.S. confirmed that North Korea’s July 4 launch was indeed an intercontinental ballistic missile test. Japanese and South Korean authorities delivered the same assessment, with Seoul reporting that the two-stage missiles has a range of about 4,300 to 5,000 miles.
South Korea’s Defense Minister said in a Wednesday morning briefing that there is “high possibility” Pyongyang will stage another nuclear test and noted gains in their efforts to miniaturize a warhead — both steps toward developing nuclear-tipped weapon capable of hitting the mainland United States.
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un took the chance to tout the launch and taunt President Donald Trump, calling the missile an Independence Day gift, according to North Korean state media, and hinting at more tests to come.
U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson has called for “global action” to stop that and the United States, South Korea and Japan have requested an emergency meeting of the United Nations security council for Wednesday.
While everyone seems to agree the July 4 test is a game-changer, the world seems as split as ever over what to do next, a diplomatic impasse set to test President Donald Trump.
As president-elect, Trump said North Korea’s plan to develop an ICBM capable of hitting the United States “won’t happen” and has since made tough talk on the issue a signature.
Trump must now weigh how to recalibrate his strategy as it becomes increasingly clear that the United States and its allies have different plans and priorities than China and, now, Russia.
In a joint statement issued Tuesday, Beijing and Moscow called for a “double suspension” that would see Pyongyang freeze its weapon program and the U.S. and South Korea stop joint military exercises.
Not long after, the U.S. and South Korea were firing missiles off the Korean coast.
“It’s quite obvious that China and Russia’s suggestion of dual-suspension is different from the approach taken by the U.S. and its Japanese and South Korean ally,” said Deng Yuwen, a Beijing-based expert on North Korea and its relationship with China.
“On the Korean Peninsular issues,” he said, “Two opposing blocs have been formed.”
A world divided over a North Korean ICBM test is not what Trump had in mind.
Since taking office, Trump has focused his efforts and remarks on getting China to pressure North Korea to back down, in part by choking of the regime’s access to resources.
This idea formed the basis of talks between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at Mar-a-lago in April, where Washington and Beijing appeared to put aside differences in the name of cooperation on North Korea and trade.
That arrangement seems to be failing fast. In recent weeks, there have been signs that Trump is frustrated with China’s progress. On June 21, he tweeted: “It has not worked out.”
On Tuesday, as news of the North Korean test broke, but before missile was confirmed to be an ICBM, the president vented again. “Hard to believe that South Korea and Japan will put up with this much longer,” he wrote.
“Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!” He did not say what type of move he hoped for.
The focus on Chinese efforts has exasperated Beijing, which insists it has done its part to pressure Pyongyang and resents being singled out.
“The international community has no solutions,” said Song Xiaojun, who used to run a government linked-military magazine. “The U.S. wants to transfer the burdens to China.”
Both foreign and Chinese analysts expressed frustration that the United States did not seem focused on getting North Korea to the table.
“The first obvious step is talking to them, that’s just kind diplomacy 101,” said John Delury, an assistant professor at Seoul’s Yonsei University.
“Obama didn’t do enough about that either,” he added. “There has been a severe drought of talking at a high level with North Koreans,” he said.
The problem is that the U.S. thinks that dialogue is a reward for North Korea,” he added. “That’s a misguided concept.”
Chinese foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said Beijing would push for dialogue at the United Nations. “We hope the relevant discussions of the North Korea nuclear issue focus on dialogue, negotiation, and peaceful settlement as soon as possible,” he said.
Dan Lamothe reported from Washington; Shirley Feng, Luna Lin and Yang Liu reported from Beijing.