Kim’s acutely timed military move comes amid growing tensions between Pyongyang and Washington. According to the head of the US military’s Northern Command, the North Koreans will begin flight testing for an improved design of an intercontinental ballistic missile “in the near future”.
Air Force General Glen VanHerck’s warning came as Mr Blinken on Wednesday accused North Korea of committing “systemic and widespread abuses” against its own people.
His trip to Tokyo and Seoul is aimed at rebuilding US alliances in Asia and is the first overseas trip by top-level members of US President Joe Biden’s administration.
It is customary for Pyongyang to test new American leaders within the first few months of their tenure in the White House with an ostentatious display of military power.
Kim has ruled with an iron fist since becoming North Korea’s Supreme Leader in 2011 following the death of his father Kim Jong-il.
The despot has continued to call for continued production of nuclear weapons in recent years despite crippling US-led sanctions.
Most recently he has launched a series of smaller missiles and showcased what appears to be the nation’s largest inter-continental ballistic missile (ICBM).
The weapons were unveiled at a military parade last October.
Gen VanHerck warned that Pyongyang’s “considerably larger and presumably more capable” ICBM exacerbated the threat to the US.
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At a crunch summit in the Vietnamese capital in February 2019 both sides failed to make progress on denuclearisation.
Mr Trump said his counterpart had demanded an end to sanctions while Kim’s team said his demands had been reasonable.
Speaking in Seoul, Mr Blinken sharply criticized North Korea’s human rights record, an issue activists say was overlooked by Mr Trump.
The world had been apprised of North Korea’s actions by defectors who have escaped from the country.
There have been claims of public executions being carried out for drug offences, sexual assault and “superstitious behaviour”
North Koreans’ freedom of movement is severely restricted and poverty is rife in the nation.
South Korea has faced international scrutiny after supporting a new law banning the launching of anti-Kim leaflets into the North.
And the licences of some defector groups that had led the campaign have been scrapped.
President Moon Jae-in’s administration, keen to revive cross-border exchanges, has said the leaflets had caused safety concerns and North Korean human rights could be improved by resuming humanitarian aid.