A defiant North Korea upped the ante in its dangerous game of brinkmanship with the United States and its allies over its nuclear weapons program, going public with a large celebration in Pyongyang on Tuesday of what it claims was a successful ballistic missile launch over the weekend.
A portrait of the land-based version of the submarine-based Pukguksong-2 intermediate ballistic missile, which the North Korean military successfully test-fired, took center stage during the country’s weeklong holiday commemorating the regime of the late Kim Jong-il.
Warnings from the Trump administration and a harsh U.N. resolution against the test do not seem to be constraining the totalitarian regime of Kim Jong-un, Kim Jong-il’s 33-year-old son, whose provocative behavior was not limited to his nuclear programs.
The festivities coincided with news that Kim Jong-un’s eldest brother, Kim Jong-nam, died under suspicious circumstances in Malaysia. Kim Jong-nam, the estranged half brother of the North Korean leader believed to be under the protection of China, was reportedly attacked by two women at the international airport in Kuala Lumpur, although details were uncertain.
South Korean news outlets reported that his attackers, who were still at large, may have been North Korean agents.
Initially seen as the heir apparent to Kim Jong-il, Kim Jong-nam was estranged from the family after attempting to sneak into Japan on a fake Dominican Republic passport in 2001. He had been living in exile in Southeast Asia at the time of his death.
In North Korea, citizens flocked to take pictures of themselves with the missile painting, which was flanked by a portrait of the late North Korean dictator and surrounded by an arrangement of Kimjongalia flowers — a begonia whose namesake is in honor of the longtime leader, The Associated Press reported.
“I felt great pride and excitement when I saw the launch on TV,” Kang Kuk-hwa told the AP. “As long as there is a threat from the United States, we must build up our defenses.”
The suspected assassination and the ballistic missile tests are only the latest examples of Pyongyang’s flouting of pressure from Washington and regional powers to curb its provocative actions.
The missile launch drew swift condemnations from the United Nations, as well as U.S. allies Japan and South Korea, shortly after news of the missile tests surfaced on state-run news outlets inside North Korea.
The test, which flew directly in the face of international mandates restricting weapons development by North Korea, triggered an emergency meeting Monday of the U.N. Security Council.
“We call on all members of the Security Council to use every available resource to make it clear to the North Korean regime — and its enablers — that these launches are unacceptable,” Nikki Haley, U.S. ambassador to the United Nations, said in a statement shortly after the emergency session. “It is time to hold North Korea accountable. Not with our words, but with our actions.”
North Korean diplomats fired back Tuesday, saying the international community had no right to dictate how Pyongyang sets its national security priorities.
“The various test-fires conducted by [North Korea] for building up self-defense capabilities are, with no exception, self-defense measures to protect national sovereignty and the safety of the people against direct threats by hostile forces,” Han Tae-song, the country’s ambassador to Switzerland, told reporters in a briefing in Geneva.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who was dining with Mr. Trump at the president’s Mar-a-Lago private club when news of the launch broke, said Tuesday that Tokyo was working with Washington and Seoul on a coordinated response to Pyongyang’s actions.
In Beijing, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang vowed that China would work with its partners in the international community “to solve the [North Korea] problem reliably.”
Before taking office, Mr. Trump complained on Twitter that Beijing, North Korea’s only real ally and main trading partner, was not doing enough to curb Pyongyang’s military ambitions.
Fired from a launch facility in Banghyon, North Pyongan Province, the missile traveled 300 miles toward the Japanese coastline before crashing into international waters east of the Korean Peninsula.
The weapons facility in Banghyon was also the location for a series of test launches of the Musudan intercontinental ballistic missile in October, all of which failed. Both missiles are reportedly capable of delivering nuclear warheads.