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North Korea claims missile test success as China rejects US criticism

North Korea has claimed it successfully test launched a medium-to-long-range ballistic missile, with China voicing opposition but rejecting criticism that it could do more to steer the regime away from its goal of developing a nuclear weapon capable of striking the US mainland.

The test on Sunday appeared to be timed to coincide with Donald Trump’s summit with the Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, and forced the two leaders to agree on an ad hoc response after their round of golf at Trump’s estate in Florida.

Geng Shuang, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said: “All sides should exercise restraint and jointly maintain regional peace and security.” He told reporters in Beijing that China would take part in UN security talks with a “responsible and constructive attitude”.

The US, Japan and South Korea requested urgent diplomatic talks at the UN to discuss the launch. Closed consultations will take place late on Monday afternoon, said the UN Mission for Ukraine, which holds the rotating security council presidency.

The Chinese Communist party newspaper said US demands for Beijing to pressure Pyongyang into abandoning its nuclear and missile programmes were pointless, unless Washington examined its own role in fomenting current tensions.

The Global Times said North Korea had been angered by the “very real” military threat from the US and its allies, and the imposition of tough UN sanctions. The editorial, published on Monday, said by insisting that China take action, the US and other countries were ignoring the “root cause” of Pyongyang’s provocative behaviour.

The Russian foreign ministry described the launch as a “another defiant disregard” for UN security council resolutions, and a cause for “regret and concern”.

The Trump administration has promised to take a tough line against Pyongyang, but in his brief response on Sunday, the US president said only that the US stood “100%” by its ally Japan. Abe described the launch as “absolutely intolerable”.

Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior policy adviser, said the president and Abe had displayed “an important show of solidarity” between their nations. “The message we’re sending to the world right now is a message of strength and solidarity. We stand with Japan and we stand with our allies in the region to address the North Korean menace,” Miller said in an interview with ABC’s This Week.

North Korea’s state-run KCNA news agency said the country’s leader, Kim Jong-un, had personally overseen the launch of a Pukguksong-2 missile, which flew for about 500km (310 miles) before splashing down in the sea between the Korean peninsula and Japan. KCNA described the missile as a strategic weapon capable of carrying a nuclear warhead.

Kim had “expressed great satisfaction over the possession of another powerful nuclear attack means, which adds to the tremendous might of the country,” KCNA said, adding that the missile had been launched at a steep trajectory out of consideration for the safety of neighbouring countries.

In claims that have yet to be verified, the news agency said a solid-fuel engine had propelled the missile, an improved version of a submarine-launched ballistic missile that was launched last summer, to an altitude of 550km.

The successful use of a solid-fuel engine would raise the stakes for North Korea’s neighbours and the US. The engines take far less time to refuel than conventional liquid fuel-powered missiles, and they give the missiles greater power and range.

Yun Duk-min from the South Korean state-run Institute of Foreign Affairs and National Security said: “They leave little warning time and therefore pose a greater threat to opponents.” Satellites find them harder to detect before they are launched, he added.

Jonathan McDowell of the Harvard Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics said North Korean claims about the missile’s engine were “a very concerning development”.

“This new rocket is the type that we should be much more worried about,” he said. “Solid-fuel rockets can be launched at short notice without much preparation. Large solid-fuel motors are difficult to make work correctly, so this is indeed a significant advance by North Korea.”

North Korea conducted two nuclear tests and more than 20 missile tests last year, but the previous two launches, involving medium-range Musudan rockets, ended in failure, according to US and South Korean officials.

More UN sanctions and the quick deployment of an advanced missile defence system in South Korea are among the options open to Washington, but a US official said any response would be designed to avoid raising tensions.

The Trump administration is under pressure to formulate a coherent North Korea policy amid warnings that the regime could be preparing to test launch an intercontinental ballistic missile. A successful test would significantly increase North Korea’s bargaining power, since fully functioning ICBMs have the range to strike the US mainland.

Jeong Joon-hee, a spokesman from South Korea’s unification ministry, told reporters, said: “These are serious military and security threats. Pyongyang has no intention of backing away from its goal of becoming a country with nuclear weapons.”