South Korea’s military said North Korea launched two ballistic missiles into the sea off its east coast on Wednesday, two days after the North claimed to have tested a new missile in its first weapons test in six months.
The missiles were launched from a central interior location towards the waters off the Korean Peninsula’s east coast, according to South Korea’s joint chiefs of staff (JCS), who added that additional investigation with US authorities was underway. The JCS stated, “Our military maintains a full preparedness posture in close collaboration with the US.”
The missile launch was dubbed “outrageous” by Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga, who criticized it as a danger to regional peace and security.
The latest launch took place when China’s foreign minister, Wang Yi, was in Seoul for talks with South Korean President Moon Jae-in and other top officials over the country’s stalled nuclear diplomacy with North Korea.
North Korea said on Monday that it had conducted a weekend test of a newly built cruise missile. The missile was classified as a “strategic weapon of enormous significance” by North Korean official media, indicating that it was designed with nuclear warheads in mind.
A missile exiting one of five tubes on a launch vehicle in a ball of flame, as well as a missile in horizontal flight, were shown in pictures published in the Rodong Sinmun newspaper on Monday.
According to experts, such a missile would constitute a significant advancement in North Korean weapons capability, since it would be better able to bypass defense systems and transport a payload across South Korea or Japan, both of which are US allies.
According to KCNA, the missiles fired over the weekend traveled 1,500 kilometers (930 miles) on two-hour flight routes above North Korea’s territorial seas, including figure-of-eight patterns.
Many analysts believe the North Korean test indicated that it was trying to beef up its weapons stockpile in the midst of a nuclear standoff between Pyongyang and Washington.
The US and North Korea have been at odds since the Americans rejected the North’s proposal for significant sanctions relief in exchange for the destruction of an aging nuclear site in 2019.
Kim’s leadership has so far rebuffed Biden’s offers for talks, insisting that Washington first quit its “hostile” policies.
The North’s restart of testing is most likely an attempt to put pressure on the Biden administration to lift the diplomatic embargo after Kim failed to use his weapons for economic gain under Donald Trump’s presidency.