TOKYO — North Korea fired another ballistic missile early Saturday morning, but it exploded within seconds of being launched, American and South Korean defense officials said.
Coinciding with renewed diplomatic and military pressure on North Korea from the Trump administration, this latest launch underscores both Kim Jong Un’s determination to make technical progress on his weapons programs and his defiance amid international pressure.
President Trump, who was briefed on the launch soon afterward, took to Twitter to reiterate his expectation that Chinese President Xi Jinping use his leverage to make Kim stop.
“North Korea disrespected the wishes of China & its highly respected President when it launched, though unsuccessfully, a missile today. Bad!” he tweeted.
Trump has repeatedly called on China, North Korea’s neighbor and largest trading partner, to punish the regime in Pyongyang, and he has warned Xi that if he doesn’t act, the United States will.
But Ralph A. Cossa, president of the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ Pacific Forum, said that the Trump administration appeared to be struggling to figure out how to deal with North Korea.
“When it comes to foreign policy, and Korea policy in particular, the Trump administration has had a pretty steep learning curve, and it has been a lot more curves than learning,” Cossa said.
Saturday’s launch marked the 75th missile test since Kim Jong Un became leader of North Korea at the end of 2011, according to a Nuclear Threat Initiative database.
American and South Korean defense officials said that the unidentified missile appears to have exploded soon after being launched at about 5 a.m. North Korea time.
“The missile did not leave North Korean territory,” U.S. Pacific Command spokesman Dave Benham said in a statement.
North Korea’s previous missile launch was on April 16, the day after a huge military parade in Pyongyang to celebrate the anniversary of the birth of founder Kim Il Sung, and it also blew up almost immediately.
But analysts said not to be consoled.
“This test may have failed, but Kim Jong Un’s overall missile test record is 58 successful flight tests and 17 failures,” said Shea Cotton of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation, who compiled the Nuclear Threat Initiative database.
North Korea is clearly making progress and has the political will, if not the technology just yet, to improve its missile technology.
At this month’s military parade, North Korea presented two of its newest model missiles, including the submarine-launched ballistic type it successfully fired last year and the land-based version it launched last month.
Kim has repeatedly said that he wants an intercontinental ballistic missile that can reach the mainland United States, and although there are still plenty technical hurdles to be overcome, many analysts believe North Korea will eventually get there.
The latest launch comes amid heightened tensions in the region.
A U.S. Navy strike group, led by the aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson, will be in the waters around the Korean Peninsula this weekend, and one of the Navy’s largest submarines has been in port in South Korea this week.
Meanwhile, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson on Friday called for new economic sanctions on North Korea and other “painful” measures over its nuclear weapons program.
“Failing to act now on the most pressing security issue in the world may bring catastrophic consequences,” Tillerson said during a special session of the U.N. Security Council. “The more we bide our time, the sooner we will run out of it.”
In its latest challenge to the United States, a North Korean propaganda outlet released a video clip this week showing simulated attacks on the United States and declaring that “the enemy to be destroyed is in our sights.”
Missy Ryan in Washington contributed to this report.