All national papers gave prominent front- and inside-page coverage to North Korea’s launch of what appeared to be an SLBM into the Sea of Japan on Wednesday. The projectile reportedly flew some 450 km and reached an altitude of about 910 km before landing in Japan’s EEZ. As the latest provocation came only a few days before the planned resumption of denuclearization talks with the U.S. on Saturday, the articles conjectured that the Kim regime was keen to display its steady progress in developing missile technology so as to win concessions from President Trump, who reportedly appears eager to seal a nuclear deal with Pyongyang in the run-up to the presidential election next year. While saying that the Trump administration has condoned the previous launches of ballistic and other type of projectiles on eight different occasions since late July, the dailies also speculated that Chairman Kim may have been eager to gauge the U.S. reaction to the testing of an SLBM, which reportedly could have flown some 2,000 km if it had not been launched on a lofted trajectory.
The papers reported that the State Department issued a statement urging the DPRK to exercise restraint and comply with its obligations under the relevant UN Security Council resolutions. Yomiuri wrote in a correspondent’s report from Washington that the Trump administration seems to be taking a wait-and-see attitude, quoting an unnamed senior USG official as saying: “We are aware of the reports on North Korea’s launch of a projectile. We are paying close attention to the situation while coordinating closely with our allies in the region.” Pointing out that the official did not criticize the launch, the daily noted the Trump administration may not take issue with the latest provocation since the President is eager to maintain cordial ties with Chairman Kim. Sankei conjectured that Kim is apparently capitalizing on the President’s willingness to condone the launch of short-range missiles to test one new projectile after another.
Mainichi speculated that the USG is probably responding to the latest provocation calmly in order to prioritize progress on the upcoming denuclearization talks by working level officials. The paper also expressed the view that since President Trump is reportedly being pushed into a corner due to the impeachment inquiry over Ukraine, he may be tempted to make a major concession by giving North Korea sanctions relief in a bid to play up his diplomatic accomplishments.