Seoul, South Korea – North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the waters off its east coast on Wednesday afternoon, two days laterin a resumption of its gun shows after a six-month lull.
South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missiles were launched from central North Korea.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said the missiles landed outside the Japanese Exclusive Economic Zone in the waters between northwestern Japan and the Korean Peninsula.
“The gunfire threatens the peace and security of Japan and the region and is absolutely outrageous,” Suga said. “The government of Japan is determined to further intensify its vigilance and surveillance to prepare for any eventuality,” he said.
Seoul said South Korean and US intelligence authorities are analyzing details of North Korean launches.
The joint chiefs’ statement added that South Korea had strengthened its anti-North Korea watchdog position.
The Japanese Coast Guard said no ships or planes had reported damage from the North Korean launches.
North Korea said on Monday it had tested a newly developed cruise missile twice over the weekend. North Korean state media described the missile as a “strategic weapon of great importance”, implying that they were developed with the intention of arming them with nuclear warheads.
According to North Korean accounts, the missile traveled about 930 miles, a distance putting all Japanese and American military installations in Japan within easy reach.
Many experts say weekend tests suggest North Korea is pushing to bolster its weapons arsenal amid a stalemate in nuclear diplomacy between Pyongyang and Washington.
Wednesday’s launches came as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi was in Seoul for meetings with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and other senior officials to discuss the nuclear diplomacy standoff with the North.
It is unusual for North Korea to make provocative launches when China, its last great ally and biggest aid provider, is engaged in a major diplomatic event.
Moon’s office said Moon told Wang he appreciates China’s role in international diplomatic efforts to resolve the North Korean nuclear standoff and called for Beijing’s continued support for such efforts. Wang called for further development of bilateral relations between Beijing and Seoul, but it was not known whether Wang specifically addressed the issue of North Korea.
Moon’s office said the government plans to hold an unscheduled National Security Council meeting later Wednesday.
Nuclear diplomacy between the United States and North Korea has stalled since 2019, when the Americans rejected the North’s demand for major sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling an aging nuclear facility. Kim’s government has so far threatened to manufacture high-tech weapons targeting the United States and has rejected the Biden administration’s overtures for dialogue, demanding that Washington first abandon its “hostile” policies.
The North’s resumption of testing activity is likely an attempt to pressure the Biden administration over the diplomatic freeze after Kim failed to leverage his arsenal for economic gain during Donald Trump’s presidency .
North Korea ended a year-long hiatus in ballistic testing in March by firing two short-range ballistic missiles into the sea, continuing the tradition of testing new U.S. administrations with weapons demonstrations aimed at measuring Washington’s response and wresting concessions.
North Korea still maintains a self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile testing, a sign that it may not want to completely scuttle nuclear negotiations with the United States.