North Korea fires short-range ballistic missile. File photo
The launch comes after the navies of South Korea, the United States and Japan staged trilateral anti-submarine exercises on Friday for the first time in five years, and follows a visit by US Vice President Kamala Harris to the region this week.
The two short-range missiles were launched from Sunan, north of the North Korean capital Pyongyang, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement. It estimated the range at 350 km (220 miles) at 30 km (20 miles) altitude and speed of Mach 6.
Japan's coast guard reported at least two suspected ballistic missile tests by Pyongyang. The missiles flew 400 km and 350 km, reaching an altitude of 50 km, said Toshiro Ino, state minister of defence.
Tokyo has lodged a protest against the North through diplomatic channels, Ino said, adding the missiles possibly flew an "irregular trajectory" designed to evade missile defence.
Kamala Harris (right) visits the demilitarised zone separating North and South Korea in Panmunjom. AFP
The US Indo-Pacific Command said it is aware of the ballistic missile launches and has assessed they do not pose an immediate threat to US personnel or territory or to its allies.
North Korea fired missiles before and after Harris' visit to South Korea, extending a record pace in weapons testing this year as it increases the threat of a credible nuclear power that can strike the United States and its allies.
Pyongyang also conducted the first intercontinental ballistic missile test since 2017.
Analysts see the increased pace of testing as an effort to build operational weapons, as well as to take advantage of a world distracted by the Ukraine conflict and other crises to "normalise” its tests.
"Despite North Korea’s internal weaknesses and international isolation, it is rapidly modernising weapons and taking advantage of a world divided by US-China rivalry and Russia’s annexation of more Ukrainian territory,” said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor of international politics at Ewha University in Seoul.
"The Kim regime is also playing hardball with the Yoon administration while South Korean politics are hobbled by infighting,” referring to South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol.
The renewed pressure comes as the pandemic further shakes the North’s economy, which was already battered by crippling US-led sanctions over its nuclear weapons programme and decades of mismanagement by its own government.
Talks with North Korea should not be for political show but contribute to establishing peace, South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol said on Wednesday, just hours after the North test fired two cruise missiles into the sea.
South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff reported that North Korea had fired a suspected ballistic missile toward the sea off its east coast from a location near Sunan, where Pyongyang's international airport is located.
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