North Korea fires two ballistic missiles: South's military

·3-min read
North Korea celebrated the 73rd anniversary of its founding with a parade earlier this month in Kim Il Sung Square in Pyongyang (AFP/STR)

North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the sea on Wednesday, according to the South's military, as China's foreign minister visited Seoul and days after Pyongyang said it had successfully tested new long-range cruise missiles.

Beijing is the North's key diplomatic ally and main partner for trade and aid, although Pyongyang is under a self-imposed blockade after closing its borders early last year to protect itself against the coronavirus pandemic.

The nuclear-armed North had fired "two unidentified ballistic missiles" from its central inland area into the sea off its east coast, Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.

"South Korean and US intelligence agencies are conducting detailed analysis," they added, without immediately giving details of the missiles' range.

The launch came as Chinese foreign minister Wang Yi visited Seoul for talks with his South Korean counterpart.

Beijing is the North's key diplomatic ally and main partner for trade and aid, although Pyongyang is under a self-imposed blockade after closing its borders early last year to protect itself against the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking before the news emerged, Wang hoped that all countries would help "peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula", Yonhap news agency reported.

"For example, not only the North, but also other countries are engaging in military activities," he added.

"Having said this, we all have to work together toward the resumption of dialogue."

Wednesday's launches came days after the North's official Korean Central News Agency reported that it had test-fired a new "long-range cruise missile" over the weekend, calling it a "strategic weapon of great significance".

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 1,500-kilometres (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.

North Korea is under international sanctions for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, which it says it needs to defend itself against a US invasion.

But Pyongyang is not banned from developing cruise missiles, which it has tested previously.

The US, Japanese and South Korean envoys on the North met in Tokyo earlier this week, when Washington's representative Sung Kim re-iterated: "We hope that the DPRK will respond positively to our multiple offers to meet without preconditions.

The US was willing to "address areas of humanitarian concerns regardless of progress on denuclearisation", in keeping with international standards for access and monitoring, he added.

Nuclear talks with the United States have been stalled since the collapse of a 2019 summit in Hanoi between North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and then-president Donald Trump over sanctions relief -- and what Pyongyang would be willing to give up in return.

The North's weapons programmes have made rapid progress under Kim, but it has not carried out a nuclear test or an intercontinental ballistic missile launch since 2017.

cdl/slb/jfx

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting