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Malaysia hunting for more N. Korean suspects in Kim's death

30 March 2017

Kim Jong-un has threatened to reduce the United States "to ashes" as tensions with North Korea continue to increase.

South Korea's Defense Ministry said Monday that North Korea's latest high-thrust rocket engine test was a "meaningful" advance in its weapons of mass destruction (WMD) development program, Yonhap News Agency reported.

The test was conducted as U.S. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson was in China on a swing through Asia that has been closely focused on concerns over how to deal with Pyongyang's nuclear and missile programs.

Kim attended Saturday's test at the Sohae launch site, according to the Korean Central News Agency, which said the test was meant to confirm the "new type" of engine's thrust power and gauge the reliability of its control system and structural safety.

US President Donald Trump slammed North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for "acting very, very badly", following Pyongyangs missile activities, a media report said.

The ministry added that North's newly unveiled equipment seems to have one main engine with four back-up ones connected.

Expert opinions vary on how advanced the North's missile capabilities are, but most agree it has made significant progress in recent years.

Sunday's test was a "precisely-timed spectacular", said Peter Hayes, director of the US-based Nautilus Institute, "the kind we've come to expect from Kim Jong Un".

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A US administration official declined to give a specific technical assessment of the test but said it showed North Korea was "150 percent" committed to its weapons programs.

North Korea has yet to develop an ICBM largely due to the country's clear inability to master atmospheric re-entry; however, Pyongyang may soon push for a test of the first stage.

Euan Graham, director of worldwide security at Australia's Lowy Institute, said the North Korea's twin civilian and military rocket programs may have "become so sophisticated they're moving on separate tracks".

North Korean leader Kim said in January his country was close to test-launching an ICBM. This ICBM would be aimed at reaching the United States mainland.

The impoverished, isolated North insists that it needs nuclear and missile weapons for self-defence against "hostile forces", including the U.S. and its ally South Korea.

Although Malaysia has never directly accused North Korea of being behind the attack, many speculate that it must have orchestrated it.

But a fifth missile fired by North Korea failed. Tillerson has to win over China to have any hope of combating the threat from the North. The simultaneous firings appeared created to outsmart the Terminal High Altitude Area Defense antimissile battery that the United States is deploying to South Korea, which would have difficulty shooting down four targets at once.

Victor Gao, director of the China National Association of International Studies, says China eventually wants to see the denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula.