North Korea may have tested new technology in latest missile

North Korea fired a ballistic missile into waters off its east coast early on Wednesday morning, a new provocation by Pyongyang ahead of talks between U.S. president Donald Trump and Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart.

The most recent launch flew about 40 miles from the eastern port city of Sinpo, according to the South Korean military.

The KN-15 name reportedly indicated the use of solid-fuel in the rocket, which makes it harder to track because of shorter launch preparation times.

Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the North's missile launch was "extremely problematic" and Tokyo has lodged a strong protest against its nuclear-armed neighbor.

And in a seemingly terse statement, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson said, "North Korea launched yet another intermediate range ballistic missile".

While the two leaders are likely to discuss a gamut of bilateral issues during the two-day meeting at Trump's Mar-a-Lago residence, matters related to trade, economic policies and North Korea are expected to figure prominently during their talks, senior White House officials said yesterday.

South Korean officials said the missile did not appear to fly very far, only about 65km.

U.S. President Donald Trump says North Korea will top the agenda during his meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping later this week. "We have somebody that is not doing the right thing", Trump said, referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un.

PACOM said it determined the launch of the KN-15 medium-range ballistic missile took place at 11:42 am (2142 GMT), landing in the Sea of Japan at 11:51 am, in line with findings by the South Korean defense ministry.

The launch comes just ahead of a summit meeting between US President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping this week where adding pressure on the North to drop its arms development will take centre stage. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he "strongly condemns" the missile launch.

The North Koreans use Sinpo shipyard for their submarine activity, and USA satellites have observed increased activity there in recent days, a second United States official said.

The North's latest missile launch also came during annual military drills between the United States and South Korea.

North Korea is pushing hard to upgrade its weapons systems to cope with what it calls USA hostility.

North Korea could also have used its latest missile launch to show that it won't back down to pressures by the Trump administration.

"Before the end of President Trump's current term, the North Koreans will probably be able to reach Seattle with an indigenously produced nuclear weapon aboard an indigenously produced intercontinental ballistic missile", Michael Hayden, who served as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency between 2006 to 2009, said Tuesday while speaking at Johns Hopkins University.

Trump "is making it seem like we are prepared to go to war or use military action ... and I don't think that is going to be viable", said Kurt Campbell, top USA diplomat for the region during former President Barack Obama's first term.

Increased tensions in North Korea would nearly certainly prompt an larger U.S. military presence in Northeast Asia, encroaching on what China increasingly sees as its sphere of influence.

Hyten added that America's early missile program was based on liquid fueled rockets that could be unstable and unsafe but "a solid is a much better solution". He didn't elaborate, but his administration is looking at sanctions against Chinese banks and companies that provide North Korea access to the worldwide financial system, a move strongly backed by Congress.

There's even a possibility that North Korea could conduct a sixth nuclear test during Trump and Xi's summit.

  • Rogelio Becker