has vowed to help exert “increasing pressure” on North Korea after the rogue regime launched an apparent ballistic capable of carrying a nuclear warhead across Japan, pushing tensions to their highest level yet in the Korean crisis.
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull joined other world leaders in swiftly condemning the “reckless, dangerous and provocative act”, which came despite a looming wave of fresh economic sanctions against the regime.
” will continue to work with all our partners, including the United States, Japan, South Korea and China, to bring increasing pressure on North Korea to end its dangerous behaviour, which poses such a threat to the security of our region and of the world,” Mr Turnbull said.
A woman walks past a TV screen broadcasting news of North Korea’s missile launch in Tokyo. Photo: AP
Experts were generally pessimistic about the chance the West has to find some peaceful way to reverse the course of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, who they said is moving ever closer to becoming a fully-fledged nuclear power.
While the timing of the test and its strategic purpose was widely discussed, many experts said the regime was simply marching ahead with its testing program and other considerations were secondary.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe branded the latest launch of what appeared to be a new Hwasong-12 ballistic missile an “unprecedented” threat to his country and called for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council.
South Korea carried out its most aggressive military show of force in recent times by conducting a live-fire drill in the form of F-15 fighter bombing runs to demonstrate “overwhelming force” it said could destroy “the enemy’s leadership”.
The missile flew about 2700 kilometres, meaning if it had been fired from Sydney it would have easily cleared New Zealand.
The test prompted warnings about miscalculations sparking conflict. Japan’s Ambassador to , Sumio Kusaka, said that “of course there is always a danger of miscalculation”, which was all the more reason to pressure Pyongyang to stop.
John Blaxland, a defence and strategic expert with the n National University, said: “The next time they do something like this, there’s no guarantee that even if they aim for the sea of Japan, that they might not hit land.”
Japan would then be compelled to respond, he said.
Mr Turnbull and Foreign Minister Julie Bishop – who discussed the North Korean launch at a scheduled meeting of Cabinet’s national security committee meeting on Tuesday – both used the North Korean missile test to praise China’s recent participation in tough economic sanctions.
But Mr Turnbull also demanded China do more, saying that it had “unique economic leverage over North Korea and with that greatest leverage comes the greatest responsibility and we urge Beijing to use it, to bring this North Korean regime to its senses.”
In an earlier radio interview, Mr Turnbull said that “China has to ratchet up the pressure”.
The latest sanctions, which have not fully kicked in yet, include a Chinese ban on imports of North Korean resources such as iron ore, coal, lead and seafood – seen as the toughest yet as it could slash the hermit state’s export revenue by a third according to some predictions.
Ms Bishop said some of the sanctions would not come into effect until early September, but they would have a “serious impact on North Korea and we hope it will make it change its risk calculation”.
She said that stood “ready to support Japan at any time”.
But some experts were less confident that the sanctions would have much effect, with Euan Graham, director of international security at the Lowy Institute, saying this was “unduly optimistic”.
“I don’t see an indication that North Korea is about to suddenly abandon course or come back to the table.”
Dr Graham and others said Mr Kim was clearly determined first and foremost to have a full nuclear weapons program. He said the focus on timing and the provocative aims “neglect the obvious point that this is just getting them down the track”, though Pyongyang tended to use its scheduled tests as a way to gain some political advantage both internationally and domestically.
Dr Blaxland said that “North Korea is on the path not only to get the ballistic weapons, but go nuclear, and the failure of the United States to do anything about this reinforces a sense that maybe Japan does need to do nuclear”.
That in turn could provoke South Korea to go nuclear.
Japan would likely in the shorter term ramp up its missile defence, Dr Blaxland said.
This would also worry Beijing because it justified Mr Abe’s more assertive military posture which, while partly aimed at North Korea, was also aimed at China.