May 22, 2017 9:43 am JST

Kim Jong Un orders production, deployment of new midrange missile

North Korean media hails 'successful' test-launch of Pukguksong-2

SOTARO SUZUKI, Nikkei staff writer

A man passes by a TV news program showing a file image of North Korean leader Kim Jong Un at the Seoul Railway Station on May 21. © AP

SEOUL -- North Korea's Korean Central News Agency said Monday that the country has again successfully test-launched a Pukguksong-2 medium-range ballistic missile.

The report apparently refers to a missile fired Sunday evening. According to the report, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un oversaw the launch and said a technological goal had been reached. Kim reportedly ordered immediate mass production of the weapon and its deployment with the army's strategic forces.

According to the South Korean armed forces, North Korea fired a ballistic missile eastward from a site near Pukchang, in South Pyeongan Province, at around 4:59 p.m.

The North Korean news agency did not provide details about the launch, such as the date or how far the missile flew, although the report is believed to refer to the one observed by the South Korean armed forces. The news agency said the latest launch was the final test-launch before the Pukguksong-2's deployment, and that Kim was present at the launch site.

The Pukguksong-2 is a ground-launched missile based on the Pukguksong submarine-launched ballistic missile. Like its precursor, the Pukguksong-2 is a cold-launch missile, meaning it is lifted into the air using compressed gas, rather than burning fuel on the launch pad. Later, the fuel is ignited so as to avoid damaging the launch pad.

Cold-launches require advanced technology, including precise control of the missile's attitude and the timing of ignition. North Korea is believed to have succeeded in testing the technology when it test-fired a missile in February. Kim reportedly praised the latest launch, giving it a perfect score, and approved its deployment to the country's armed forces.

Sunday's launch comes just a week after North Korea fired a Hwasong-12 missile on May 14. That missile was launched toward the east-northeast from a site near Kusong, in North Pyeongan Province.

The Korean Central News Agency reported Monday that Kim Jong Un had instructed the military to speed up efforts to diversify and improve the country's nuclear capabilities "while the U.S. imperialists and their followers are flinching."

Pyongyang's latest provocation comes despite strong pressure from the international community to restrain itself, possibly because it fears U.S. military action. 

On May 18, U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson met with South Korean special envoy Hong Seok-hyun, former chairman of the JoongAng Daily, a newspaper. During the meeting, Tillerson reiterated that the U.S. is not seeking regime change in North Korea. Tillerson also reportedly urged North Korea to show by its actions its intention to halt nuclear and missile tests.

Yoshihide Suga, Japan's chief cabinet secretary, said Monday that Japan should "deepen its own sanctions against North Korea" in response to North Korea's latest missile launch.

"Japan has unilaterally imposed sanctions, and it is important that we go deeper and rigorously," Suga told reporters.

As for additional sanctions by the international community, Suga said: "It is extremely important that Japan, the U.S. and South Korea take the lead and seek support from China and Russia, both of which can have an influence on the North, to put strong pressure on North Korea."

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