Donald Trump has condemned North Korea for “disrespecting the wishes of China” after Pyongyang test-fired a ballistic missile despite rising tensions in the region.
The unsuccessful test comes as the United States pushed for tougher sanctions to curb the country’s nuclear threat. Writing on Twitter, the US president said Pyongyang had defied Chinese president Xi Jinping by going ahead with the launch.
South Korea’s military said the test of the missile took place near Bukchang in South Pyeongan Province early on Saturday morning.
A US government source told the Reuters news agency that initial indications suggested the test was unsuccessful. The US military’s Pacific Command said the missile did not leave North Korean territory.
“US Pacific Command detected what we assess was a North Korean missile launch at 10:33am Hawaii time ... The ballistic missile launch occurred near the Pukchang airfield,” Commander Dave Benham said in a statement. “The missile did not leave North Korean territory.”
Japan joined in criticism of the test launch, saying it was absolutely unacceptable and a violation of UN resolution. Speaking at a press conference in London on Saturday, the Japanese prime minister, Shinzō Abe, said it posed a grave threat to Japan.
“Despite strong warnings by the international community, North Korea today went through its ballistic missile launch. It is a grave threat to our country. This is absolutely not acceptable. We strongly condemn such acts,” Abe said.
Abe called for solidarity from the international community, admitting further North Korean missile tests are “fully conceivable”. “We’d like to maintain a close coordination with the United States, our ally, to maintain a high state of alert. We’d like to be water-tight to ensure safety for our citizens,” he said.
A US official said the Trump administration could respond by speeding up its plans for new US sanctions against Pyongyang, including possible measures against specific North Korean and Chinese entities.
“It’s possible that something could be sped up,” the official said of the potential for imposing new unilateral sanctions on North Korea. “Something that’s ready to go could be taken from the larger package and expedited.”
The official said the missile launch was the kind of “provocation” that had been anticipated ahead of South Korea’s 9 May election, and that the president could use the test-firing to further press China to do more to rein in North Korea.
The launch comes with tensions high on the Korean peninsula, with this the latest in a series of missile launches by the North and warnings from Trump’s US administration that it was running out of patience.
At the UN security council on Friday, Washington pushed for tougher sanctions to confront the North Korean threat, piling pressure on China to rein in its ally while warning it was keeping military options “on the table”. Trump himself of Thursday warned of the prospect of a “major, major conflict” with North Korea.
The US secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, warned that failure to curb Pyongyang’s nuclear and missile abilities could lead to “catastrophic consequences”, while China and Russia cautioned Washington against threatening military force to solve the problem.
“Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences,” Tillerson said in his first remarks to the council as secretary of state.
The United States was not pushing for regime change and preferred a negotiated solution, but Pyongyang, for its own sake, should dismantle its nuclear and missile programmes, he said.
“The threat of a nuclear attack on Seoul, or Tokyo, is real, and it’s only a matter of time before North Korea develops the capability to strike the US mainland,” Tillerson said.
While Tillerson repeated the Trump administration’s position that all options are on the table if Pyongyang persists with its nuclear and missile development, Yi said military threats would not help.
The Russian deputy foreign minister, Gennady Gatilov, also said on Friday the use of force would be “completely unacceptable”.
Agence France-Presse and Reuters contributed to this report