South Korea says Pyongyang tested pair of ballistic missiles

The test comes just days after North Korea tested a long-range cruise missile and, if confirmed, will be a breach of UN sanctions.

North Korea fired a pair of ballistic missiles off its east coast on Wednesday, South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said, days after Pyongyang said it had launched a long-range cruise missile.

The North has been building up its weapons programme over the past few years after talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes broke down in 2019 over sanctions relief.

The nuclear-armed North 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.

Japan’s Coast Guard also said an object landed outside it exclusive economic zone that could be a ballistic missile fired from North Korea.

“The firings threaten the peace and safety of Japan and the region and are absolutely outrageous,” Suga said. “The government of Japan is determined to further step up our vigilance and surveillance to be prepared for any contingencies,” he said.

Both Suga and South Korean President Moon Jae-in convened sessions of their national security councils to discuss the launches, according to their offices.

The foreign ministers of South Korea and China were holding talks in Seoul on Wednesday amid concerns over the recent missile test and the denuclearisation negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington, which have been stalled since 2019. The North under international sanctions for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes.

Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul, said the timing of the test could make “Beijing appear unwilling or unable to restrain Pyongyang”. It also highlighted “China’s responsibility to do more to safeguard stability in Northeast Asia,” he added in an email.

South Korea detected the balllistic missile test as China’s Foreign Minister Wang Yi visited Seoul for talks [Yonhap via Reuters]

If confirmed as a ballistic missile, the test would be North Korea’s first since March this year and a further breach of UN sanctions.

On Monday, North Korea said it tested what state media described as a “strategic” long range cruise missile with analysts suggesting the weapon could be capable of carrying a nuclear warhead. State media said the missile flew about 1,500 kilometers (930 miles).

Nuclear diplomacy between the United States and North Korea stalled in 2019, when the US rejected the North’s demand for major sanctions relief in exchange for dismantling an ageing nuclear facility.

The Biden administration announced it had completed a review of North Korea policy in May and that while denuclearisation remained a priority it would not seek any “grand bargain” with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Kim’s government has so far rejected dialogue and threatened to accelerate its weapons development, accusing the US of “hostility” despite its diplomatic efforts.