Launch comes as Chinese foreign minister is in Seoul to discuss stalled nuclear diplomacy and two days after North tests a new long-range cruise missile
North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast on Wednesday, South Korea’s military has said, two days after the North claimed to have tested a new missile in its first weapons test in six months.
South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff (JCS) said the missiles flew from a central inland area towards the waters off the Korean Peninsula’s east coast and that further analysis with US officials was under way. “Our military maintains a full readiness posture in close cooperation with the US,” the JCS said.
Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga called the missile launch “outrageous”, and strongly condemned the action as a threat to peace and security of the region.
The latest launch came as the Chinese foreign minister, Wang Yi, was in Seoul for meetings with the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, and other senior officials to discuss the stalled nuclear diplomacy with the North.
On Monday, North Korea said it had tested a newly developed cruise missileover the weekend. North Korea’s state media described the missile as a “strategic weapon of great significance”, implying they were developed with the intent to arm them with nuclear warheads.
Pictures in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Monday showed a missile exiting one of five tubes on a launch vehicle in a ball of flame, and a missile in horizontal flight.
Such a weapon would represent a marked advance in North Korea’s weapons technology, analysts said, better able to avoid defence systems to deliver a warhead across the South or Japan – both of them US allies.
The missiles fired at the weekend travelled 1,500km (about 930 miles), on two-hour flight paths – including figure-of-eight patterns – above North Korea and its territorial waters to hit their targets, according to KCNA.
Many experts say the North Korean test suggested it was pushing to bolster its weapons arsenal amid a deadlock in nuclear diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington.
Talks between the United States and North Korea have stalled since 2019, when the Americans rejected the North’s demand for major sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling an ageing nuclear facility.
Kim’s government has so far rejected the Biden administration’s overtures for dialogue, demanding that Washington abandon its “hostile” policies first.
The North’s resumption of testing activity is likely an attempt at pressuring the Biden administration over the diplomatic freeze after Kim failed to leverage his arsenal for economic benefits during the the presidency of Donald Trump.
– Associated Press, Reuters and Agence France-Presse contributed to this report
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