North Korea challenges Trump with 'ballistic missile launch': Here's what you should know

North Korea has reportedly fired a ballistic missile in its first such test since Donald Trump became president of the US.

Details of the launch, including what type of missile it was, were scant. But Trump has backed early criticism by Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, who is currently on a visit to the US.

Here’s everything you need to know.

What do we know about the launch so far?

File footage of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un with letters reading: “The North fired a missile” (Lee Jin-man/AP)

There was no immediate confirmation from the North, which had recently warned it’s ready to test its first intercontinental ballistic missile.

South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff said the missile was fired early on Sunday from around Banghyon, in North Pyongan province.

The military in Seoul said it flew about 310 miles – it’s believed to have splashed down into the sea between the Korean Peninsula and Japan.

Japan’s chief cabinet secretary Yoshihide Suga said the missile did not hit Japanese territorial seas.

What type of missile was it?

Kim Jong Un said in his New Year’s address that North Korea had reached the final stages of readiness to test an intercontinental ballistic missile, which would be a major step forward in its efforts to build a credible nuclear threat to the United States.

But news agency Yonhap said that while determinations were still being made, the missile launched early on Sunday was not believed to be an intercontinental ballistic missile.

Kim Dong-yeop – an analyst at the Institute for Far Eastern Studies in Seoul – speculated the missile could be a Musudan or a similar rocket designed to test engines for an intercontinental ballistic missile that could hit the US mainland.

Analysts are divided, however, over how close the North is to having a reliable long-range rocket that could be coupled with a nuclear warhead capable of striking US targets.

Do we know why this may have happened now?

Trump backed early criticism by Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe (Susan Walsh/AP)

While Pyongyang has been relatively quiet about the transfer of power to the Trump administration, its state media has repeatedly called for Washington to abandon its “hostile policy”. They have vowed to continue its nuclear and missile development programmes until the US changes its diplomatic approach.

It also reaffirmed its plan to conduct more space launches just days ago. These plans have been criticised because they involve dual-use technology that can be transferred to improve missiles.

How has Trump responded?

Trump and Abe held a brief press conference in Palm Beach, Florida, where Abe called North Korea’s reported launch “absolutely intolerable”.

Trump followed Abe’s condemnation by saying in part: “I just want everybody to understand and fully know that the United States of America stands behind Japan, its great ally, 100%.”

What might happen next?

People are wondering how Trump will deal with this latest development.

Meanwhile, South Korea’s acting president and prime minister Hwang Kyo-ahn said his country would punish North Korea for the missile launch.

According to the Foreign Ministry, South Korea will continue to work with allies including the United States, Japan and the European Union to ensure a thorough implementation of sanctions against the North and make the country realise that it will “never be able to survive” without discarding all of its nuclear and missile programmes.


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