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Tuesday, Nov 19, 2019

US flies bombers, tests missile defence after N Korea’s ICBM test

world Updated: Jul 30, 2017 20:25 IST
Yashwant Raj
Yashwant Raj
Hindustan Times, Washington
US Air Force B-1B bombers (top) fly with a Japan Air Self Defence Force F-2 fighter jet over Japan's southern island of Kyushu, just south of the Korean Peninsula, during a Japan-US joint exercise on Sunday.
US Air Force B-1B bombers (top) fly with a Japan Air Self Defence Force F-2 fighter jet over Japan's southern island of Kyushu, just south of the Korean Peninsula, during a Japan-US joint exercise on Sunday.(AP)

Amid rising tensions over North Korea’s continued and provocative testing of missiles and the Chinese failure to rein it in, the United States flew bombers over the Korean peninsula on Sunday and followed it up with successfully testing its missile defence system.

After condemning North Korea’s test of an intercontinental ballistic missile, President Donald Trump zeroed in on Beijing on Saturday, saying, in a series of tweets, he was “very disappointed” in China for its failure to match its assurances with action. Its been “just talk”, he fumed. 

Hours later, two supersonic B-1 bombers of the US air force flew low over the Korean peninsula on Sunday, escorted by fighters piloted by South Koreans, which, the Americans said in a statement, was a response to the Friday missile test and the one earlier in the month.

This was followed a few hours later by successful testing of THAAD —Terminal High Altitude Area Defense— which was conducted in the Pacific using a missile defence system based in Alaska. The US installed one such system in South Korea in January ignoring objections from China, which believes the system’s powerful radars can monitor its own missile systems.

Tensions between North Korea and the United States have been escalating with Pyongyang conducting a series of tests, with mixed results, since Trump took office, including and exacerbated by the death of American student Otto Warmbier who had been held in custody by North Korea for 17 months. 

“I am very disappointed in China,” the president tweeted on Saturday, “Our foolish past leaders have allowed them to make hundreds of billions of dollars a year in trade, yet they do NOTHING for us with North Korea, just talk.”

“We will no longer allow this to continue. China could easily solve this problem!”

Trump had sought Beijing’s help to force North Korea to comply with a UN-mandated ban against it testing missiles and advancing its nuclear weapons programme, hoping it will leverage its clout as Pyongyang’s largest trading partner and patron. At one stage, Trump seemed satisfied China had done its bit, even if it did not yield the desired results.

But the US president seems to have evolved since, and feels let down clearly. He threatened to put an end to Chinese prevarications on trade, which he indicated but did not spell out clearly.

And the White House had not followed up on his tweet with specific details on future actions.

The immediate cause of Trump’s irritation was North Korea successfully testing an ICBM that, according to defence experts, can hit the US mainland.

This was a second test of an intercontinental missile by North Korea in July.

The missile stayed on air for 47 minutes, and went 2,300 miles high across 621 miles. Taking a flatter trajectory, it could have potentially reached Los Angeles and Chicago, according to experts.

In a statement issued by the White House hours after the test on Friday, Trump had called it the “latest reckless and dangerous action” by North Korea, but had not blamed Chine for not doing enough.

Secretary of state Rex Tillerson, however, had held not only China but also Russia responsible. “As the principal economic enablers of North Korea’s nuclear weapon and ballistic missile development programme, China and Russia bear unique and special responsibility for this growing threat to regional and global stability,” he had said in a statement.

While Beijing condemned the test and said it “opposes North Korea’s violations” UN resolutions, it did not respond to Tillerson’s finger-pointing this time.

Earlier this month, it was less diplomatic. “Recently, certain people, talking about the Korean peninsula nuclear issue, have been exaggerating and giving prominence to the so-called ‘China responsibility theory’,” Geng Shuang, a foreign ministry spokesman, had said in Beijing.

“I think this either shows lack of a full, correct knowledge of the issue, or there are ulterior motives for it, trying to shift responsibility.”