SEOUL, South Korea (AP) – North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the waters off its east coast on Wednesday afternoon, two days after claiming to have tested a newly developed missile as part of a recovery of its gun shows after a six-month lull.
South Korean Joint Chiefs of Staff said the missiles were launched from central North Korea, and the Japanese Coast Guard said they landed outside its exclusive economic zone in the waters between Japan and the Korean Peninsula. Seoul said South Korean and US intelligence authorities were analyzing more details of the launches and that the South had stepped up its anti-North Korea surveillance.
“The gunfire threatens the peace and security of Japan and the region and is absolutely scandalous,” Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said. “The government of Japan is determined to further intensify its vigilance and surveillance to prepare for any eventuality.”
The Japanese Coast Guard said no ships or planes had reported damage from the missiles.
North Korea said Monday it 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 it was developed with the intention of carrying nuclear warheads. According to North Korean accounts, the missile traveled about 1,500 kilometers (930 miles), a distance that put all Japanese and American military installations 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 stalled nuclear talks 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 appreciated China’s role in the international diplomatic push to resolve the North Korean nuclear standoff and asked for Beijing’s continued support.
Wang said Beijing will continue to support the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula and the improvement of relations between the Koreas, and also called for further development of relations with Seoul.
Moon’s office said the government plans to hold an unscheduled National Security Council meeting later Wednesday.
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 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.
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.