The United States said it has shot down a simulated, incoming intermediate-range ballistic missile (IRBM) similar to the ones being developed by countries like North Korea, in a new test of the nation’s THAAD missile defenses, Reuters reports.
Planned months ago, the US missile defense test over the Pacific Ocean has gained significance after North Korea’s July 4 launch of an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM) heightened concerns about the threat from Pyongyang.
Tuesday’s test was the first-ever of the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense (THAAD) system against an incoming IRBM, which experts say is a faster and more difficult target to hit than shorter-range missiles.
The US Missile Defense Agency said the IRBM was designed to behave similarly to the kinds of missiles that could threaten the US.
“The successful demonstration of THAAD against an IRBM-range missile threat bolsters the country’s defensive capability against developing missile threats in North Korea and other countries,” the Missile Defense Agency said in a statement.
The successful THAAD test adds to the credibility of the US military’s missile defense program, which has come under intense scrutiny in recent years amid test delays and failures.
The US Government Accountability Office, a federal watchdog, noted in a May report that the Missile Defense Agency had not previously tested THAAD against an IRBM, despite having deployed the system to the island of Guam, a US territory in the Pacific, in 2013 amid concerns about North Korea’s missile program.
That means that, until the latest test, the THAAD system had an unproven capability against IRBMs, missiles that have a range of between 1,800 and 3,100 miles (3,000 to 5,500 km). Guam is approximately 2,100 miles (3,400 km) from North Korea.
In order to hit the mainland United States, North Korea would need to fire an ICBM, which is defined as a missile with a range greater than 3,400 miles (5,500 km).
In the latest test, a THAAD in Kodiak, Alaska, intercepted a ballistic missile target that was air-launched from a C-17 aircraft flying north of Hawaii, the Missile Defense Agency said in a statement. A defense official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said the test took place early on Tuesday.
This success leaves THAAD with a 100 percent track record for all 14 intercept attempts since flight testing began just over a decade ago.
China responsibility theory
Meanwhile, China hit back in unusually strong terms at repeated calls from the US to put more pressure on North Korea, urging a halt to what it called the “China responsibility theory”, and saying all parties needed to pull their weight.
US President Trump took a more conciliatory tone at a meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on Saturday, but he has expressed some impatience that China, with its close economic and diplomatic ties to Pyongyang, is not doing enough to rein in North Korea.
Asked about calls from the US, Japan and others for China to put more pressure on North Korea, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said it was not China ratcheting up tension and the key to a resolution did not lie with Beijing.
“Recently, certain people, talking about the Korean peninsula nuclear issue, have been exaggerating and giving prominence to the so-called ‘China responsibility theory’,” Geng told a daily news briefing, without naming any parties.
“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,” he added.
China has been making unremitting efforts and has played a constructive role, but all parties have to meet each other half way, Geng said.
“Asking others to do work, but doing nothing themselves is not OK,” he added. “Being stabbed in the back is really not OK.”
While China has been angered by North Korea’s repeated nuclear and missile tests, it also blames the US and South Korea for worsening tension with their military exercises.
‘Distorted trade picture’
Meanwhile, China’s ambassador to the US said reports of trade growth between his country and North Korea, in spite of international efforts to press Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program, give “a distorted picture”.
Last week Trump denounced China’s trade with North Korea, saying it had grown almost 40 percent in the first quarter, and cast doubt on whether Beijing was helping to counter the threat from North Korea.
Data released in April showed China’s trade with North Korea grew 37.4 percent year on year in the first quarter, in spite of a ban on coal imports China announced in February.
“This is a distorted picture,” China’s ambassador to the United States, Cui Tiankai, said in a speech to a Washington think tank on Monday.
Cui said bilateral trade declined in 2015 and 2016, and by 41 percent in April and 32 percent in May as a result of the coal import ban.
At the same time, Cui stressed that UN Security Council sanctions on North Korea did not constitute an embargo. “Normal trade … is not banned by these sanctions,” he said.
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