US President Donald Trump and his advisors have suggested, in light of Pyongyang's suspected ICBM launch on Monday, that unless China takes the kind of action his administration demands, Washington will act alone against a consistently belligerent People's Democratic Republic of Korea (DPRK) that has steadfastly refused to scale down its nuclear weapons program.
Trump's Sunday night phone call with Chinese President Xi Jinping preceded the missile launch, and was cordial but blunt, according to the New York Times, as the US president warned that the White House would act alone, if need be, to stop Pyongyang's ballistic missile and nuclear weapons program.
The announcement of Washington's willingness to act alone is seen as a clear indication that any honeymoon between Trump's administration and Beijing is over, as the US has recently completed a large sale of weapons to Taiwan, threatened Beijing with trade sanctions, and accused China of widespread human trafficking.
Trump, after being told about the suspected ICBM missile launch by Pyongyang — an unprecedented move if true — followed up his phoned warning to the Chinese president by tweeting: "Perhaps China will put a heavy move on North Korea and end this nonsense once and for all!"
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 4, 2017
An ICBM launch by Pyongyang would be the country's first such test, and would indicate that the DPRK is far more advanced in its ballistic missile capability than previously thought, according to the Washington Post.
While the Pentagon is still calculating the precise telemetry of the launch, global weapons experts have asserted that the DPRK missile, dubbed the Hwasong-14, has the capacity to deliver a nuclear warhead to the US mainland, a development by Pyongyang that was presumed to be years in the future.
An earlier Pentagon analysis of the trajectory of Monday's Hwasong-14 launch suggested that the missile was a "land-based, intermediate-range" rocket, after it landed in the Sea of Japan less than 600 miles from its starting point.
But a deeper assessment of the trajectory of the missile's arc above the Earth found that the rocket attained an altitude of some 1741 miles above the surface.
Based on the altitude of the launch, the missile could, if programmed to do so, travel some 4100 miles over the surface of the Earth, making it an intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).
An ICBM launched from the DPRK can strike targets on the US mainland, something that experts had suggested that Pyongyang was incapable of, prior to the launch of the Hwasong-14.
An ICBM is classified as any missile that can travel 3400 miles over the surface of the Earth, regardless of altitude.
"This is a big deal: It's an ICBM, not a ‘kind of' ICBM," said Jeffrey Lewis, director of the East Asia program at the Center for Nonproliferation Studies, cited by the Washington Post.
"There's no reason to think that this is going to be the maximum range," he added.