US halts flights after North Korea tests missile

After watching the test, Mr Kim urged military scientists to “further accelerate the efforts to steadily build up the country’s strategic military muscle both in quality and quantity and further modernise the army”, KCNA reported.

“While Kim probably unofficially attended other tests in the interim, this appearance and its page 1 feature on Rodong Sinmun is important,” tweeted Chad O’Carroll, founder of NK News, referring to North Korea’s state newspaper.

“It means Kim is not concerned about being personally associated with tests of major new tech and doesn’t care how the US sees this.”

In the decade since leader Kim Jong-un took power, North Korea has seen rapid advances in its military technology at the cost of international sanctions.

The missile landed outside Japan’s exclusive economic zone. While there were no immediate reports of damage, Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida called the launch “extremely regrettable”.

The missile, fired towards the sea east of the peninsula on Tuesday at around 7.27am (10.27 Monday in the UK), flew 700 kilometres (435 miles) at an altitude of around 60 kilometres at Mach 10 speed (about 7,673mph), Seoul’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said.

Hypersonic missiles travel at speeds of Mach 5 and higher and can manoeuvre mid-flight, making them harder to track and intercept. The missiles were listed among the “top priority” tasks for strategic weapons in North Korea’s current five-year plan, and it announced its first test – of the Hwasong-8 – in September last year.

Pyongyang has also said it had successfully tested new submarine-launched ballistic missiles, a long-range cruise missile, and a train-launched weapon in 2021.

The UN Security Council meeting to discuss Pyongyang’s weapons programs came after six countries, including the United States and Japan, called on North Korea to “engage in meaningful dialogue towards our shared goal of complete denuclearisation”.

The European Union condemned what it said was North Korea’s pursuit of “illegal weapons systems” while calling on Pyongyang to refrain from undermining its UN Security Council resolution obligations and eschewing “the environment for pursuing diplomacy and dialogue”.

At a key meeting of North Korea’s ruling party last month, Kim vowed to continue building up the country’s defence capabilities, without mentioning America.

Instead of the policy positions on diplomacy, for which Kim’s New Year statements are closely watched, he focused on food security and economic development.

Dialogue between Washington and Pyongyang remains stalled and the country is under multiple sets of international sanctions over its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes.

The impoverished nation has also been under a rigid self-imposed coronavirus blockade that has hammered its economy.

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