Is North Korea putting nuclear-tipped bargaining chip on table

U.S. Navy's F  A-18 Super Hornet fighter approaches the deck of the Nimitz-class aircraft carrier USS Carl Vinson during the annual joint military exercise called Foal Eagle between South Korea and the United States

The U.S. and South Korean militaries said initial assessments indicated the launch was of a KN-15 medium-range ballistic missile, which would be the same kind North Korea test-launched in February.

The report on the missile test comes as President Donald Trump meets with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in Florida for the first time to discuss a range of issues including North Korea. Kim Dong-yub, an analyst at Seoul's Institute for Far Eastern Studies, questioned why North Korea would do a shorter launch of the KN-15.

Analysts said North Korea's latest move will accentuate the gulf between China and the U.S. on how to deal with Pyongyang, and more provocations can follow if the outcome of the summit today and tomorrow is unfavourable to Pyongyang.

During his first Asia tour this month, Tillerson said the US was looking at a "new approach" against North Korea in which "all options are on the table", including military action.

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Ralph Cossa, president of the Pacific Forum CSIS think-tank in Honolulu, said he was expecting North Korea would do something to coincide with the Trump-Xi summit, perhaps conduct a nuclear test. The missile launch may be a precursor, with more to come as the summit starts later this week, Cossa said.

They added that the launch was made from land and not from the sea, ruling out the possibility that it was a ballistic missile launched from a submarine (SLBM), as Pyongyang has launched before from the sea off the coast of Sinpo, where its main centre of development for these projectiles is located. But unlike the KN-15, which uses solid fuel, the missile fired Wednesday used liquid fuel and was sacked from a fixed location, rather than a mobile launcher, the official said.

But Beijing is wary of putting too much pressure on North Korea for fear of the unpredictable consequences if the state collapses.

South Korea's foreign ministry strongly condemned the launch, which it said represented a "threat to peace and stability of the whole world".

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The North's latest missile launch also came during annual military drills between the United States and South Korea.

"China will either decide to help us with North Korea, or they won't", Trump said.

Last August Pyongyang also successfully test-fired a submarine-launched ballistic missile 500 kilometers towards Japan, far exceeding any previous sub-launched tests, in what the North's leader Kim Jong-Un hailed as the "greatest success".

North Korea's foreign ministry on Monday assailed Washington for its tough talk and for an ongoing joint military exercise with South Korea and Japan which Pyongyang sees as a dress rehearsal for invasion. But earlier in March, North Korea fired four ballistic missiles that flew about 1,000 kilometers (620 miles), with three of them landing in waters that Japan claims as its exclusive economic zone.

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The launch was North Korea's latest in a long series of missile and nuclear tests that have accelerated in their variation and intensity over the last two years.

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