A man watches a TV showing a file image of a North Korea's missile launch in Seoul, South Korea. File/AP
North Korea fired what appeared to be two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast on Sunday, the fourth such launch this month as the world battles the coronavirus outbreak.
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The string of weapons drills come as a prolonged hiatus in disarmament talks with the United States drags on, and despite recent overtures from Washington offering help to contain the pandemic.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said the North fired the two projectiles, presumed to be ballistic missiles, from the port city of Wonsan into the Sea of Japan, also known as the East Sea.
"Such military action by North Korea is an extremely inappropriate act when the entire world is having difficulties due to the COVID-19 outbreak," they added in a statement.
Tokyo's defence ministry said the projectiles fell short of Japanese waters and the country's exclusive economic zone.
The nuclear-armed North has yet to issue a statement on Sunday's missiles but attributed its three other launches this month — all of which landed in the Sea of Japan — to "long-range artillery" drills.
It last week fired what Seoul said were two short-range ballistic missiles, describing them as a new "tactical guided weapon".
North Korean state media announced the following day that the country's leader Kim Jong Un had received a letter from US President Donald Trump detailing a plan to develop ties -- a move later confirmed by a White House official.
The report cited Kim's powerful sister Kim Yo Jong, who warned that the apparently good personal relationship between the two leaders would not be enough to foster broader relations.
Trump "explained his plan to propel the relations between the two countries... and expressed his intent to render cooperation in the anti-epidemic work," she said in a statement published by the Korean Central News Agency (KCNA).
North Korea is one of the few remaining countries in the world yet to report a case of novel coronavirus infection.
But the outbreak has turned into a major international crisis, with more than 640,000 confirmed cases and 30,000 dead worldwide.
There has also been widespread speculation that the virus has reached the isolated nation, and health experts have warned that it could devastate the country given its weak medical infrastructure and widespread malnutrition.
Sunday's launch was intended to show the country was running normally during the pandemic, said Kim Dong-yub, a researcher at the Seoul-based Institute for Far Eastern Studies.
One ballistic missile was launched about 10:17am local time from the vicinity of Sinpo, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said, where North Korea keeps submarines as well as equipment for test firing submarine-launched ballistic missiles (SLBMs).
Pyongyang has been steadily developing its weapons programme amid a standoff over talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear and ballistic missile arsenals in return for US sanctions relief.
The trio also condemned North Korea's disregard of multiple UN Security Council resolutions and its deeply destabilizing implications for the region, spokesperson Ned Price said.
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