The Sohae launch facility at the Tongchang-ri site has been used for
satellite launches and engine testing but never for ballistic missile launches.
This week’s satellite images, coming from several US think tanks and
testimony from the South Korean intelligence service, appear to show rapid
progress has been made in rebuilding structures on the rocket launch pad.
US National Security Adviser John Bolton has said North Korea could yet face
more sanctions if there is no progress on denuclearization.
A historic first meeting between President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un in 2018 in Singapore produced a vaguely worded agreement on “denuclearization” but little progress.
President Donald Trump has criticized China following North Korea’s test of a long-range missile, condemning it for increasing trade with Pyongyang.
He tweeted: “So much for China working with us.”
Meanwhile, the US and South Korea conducted a ballistic missile fire exercise in the Sea of Japan in response to North Korea’s action.
China and Russia have urged both sides to stop flexing their military muscle and said they oppose any attempts at regime change in North Korea.
Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said: “It is perfectly clear to Russia and China that any attempts to justify the use of force by referring to [United Nations] Security Council resolutions are unacceptable, and will lead to unpredictable consequences in this region which borders both the Russian Federation and the People’s Republic of China.”
“Attempts to strangle the DPRK [North Korea] economically are equally unacceptable,” he added.
The trade figures showing an increase in trade between China and North Korea, which he was apparently referring to in July 5 critical tweet.
President Trump is now en route to Poland and Germany, where he will meet President Xi Jinping for the second time.
China, which is North Korea’s main economic ally, and Russia have called on the North to suspend its ballistic missile program in exchange for a halt on the large-scale military exercises by the US and South Korea.
President Xi and Russian President Vladimir Putin, who met in Moscow on July 4, said “the opposing sides should start negotiations”.
On July 4, Japan said “repeated provocations like this are absolutely unacceptable” and lodged a protest.
The latest development comes as Vice-President Mike Pence heads to Seoul, where he is expected to discuss the best way to deal with North Korea’s missile and nuclear programs.
“North Korea attempted to test an unidentified type of missile from [its eastern port of] Sinpo,” the South Korean defense ministry said, adding that the launch on April 16 had “failed”.
The ministry said that it was investigating for further details.
The US Pacific Command later confirmed the failed test, adding that it had detected and tracked what it believed to be a North Korean ballistic missile.
“The missile blew up almost immediately,” said US Navy Commander Dave Benham, quoted by Reuters.
One unnamed US official said it was unlikely to have been an intercontinental missile, but investigations were continuing.
On April 15, North Korea marked the 105th anniversary of the birth of its founding president, Kim Il-sung, with a huge military parade in Pyongyang amid speculation that current leader Kim Jong-un could order a new nuclear test.
The event, which appeared to include new intercontinental and submarine-launched ballistic missiles, was a deliberate show of strength.
South Korea’s Foreign Ministry said in a statement: “North Korea showing a variety of offensive missiles at yesterday’s military parade and daring to fire a ballistic missile today is a show of force that threatens the whole world.”
At the parade on April 15, North Korean military official Choe Ryong-hae, who is believed to be the country’s second most powerful official, said that his country was “prepared to respond to an all-out war with an all-out war”.
“We are ready to hit back with nuclear attacks of our own style against any nuclear attacks,” he said.
Earlier this month, North Korea test-fired a medium-range ballistic missile from Sinpo into the Sea of Japan.
The launch took place on the eve of a visit by China’s President Xi Jinping to the US to meet President Donald Trump. The two leaders later discussed how to rein in North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs.
North Korea is banned from any missile or nuclear tests by the UN, though it has repeatedly broken those sanctions.
This test came from the eastern coastal town of Wonsan and will be seen as a response to annual military drills under way between the US and South Korea, which North Korea sees as preparation for an attack on it.
North Korea is believed to be developing an intercontinental ballistic missile that could strike the US, and has previously claimed it had successfully miniaturized nuclear warheads so they can fit on missiles.
However, most experts believe the North is still some time away from being able to realize such a goal.
Last weekend, North Korea conducted a rocket engine test that its leader Kim Jong-un claimed was a breakthrough in its rocket technology. This has not been confirmed by independent experts.
The move came as US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Japan, South Korea and China for talks on North Korea’s recent actions, including its two most recent nuclear tests.