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North Korea fires two ballistic missiles off its East Coast

Pyongyang’s first such test since March 25 called ‘an outrage’ by Japan’s prime minister

By The Wall Street Journal Sep 15, 2021 (Gmt+09:00)

North Korea fires two ballistic missiles off its East Coast

SEOUL—North Korea launched two ballistic missiles off its east coast on Wednesday, South Korean and Japanese officials said, in Pyongyang’s second weapons test in recent days.

The missiles splashed into the waters between Korea and Japan. The distance flown and the precise time of launch weren’t immediately released by South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff. The projectiles didn’t enter Japanese territory and weren’t believed to have landed inside the nation’s exclusive economic zone, Tokyo’s military said.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga condemned the missile test and said it violated United Nations Security Council resolutions.

“This is an outrage that threatens our nation and regional peace and security,” Mr. Suga said.

Officials from Washington, Tokyo and Seoul were gathering information about the North Korean launch, South Korean and Japanese officials said. South Korea strengthened its defense posture, the country’s military said.

North Korean state media said it tested new long-range cruise missiles over the weekend. In a Monday report, the missiles were called a “strategic weapon of great significance.” Those types of weapons have generally not caused blowback from the U.N. and the international community.

The Kim regime last conducted a ballistic missile launch on March 25. Those types of tests violate U.N. resolutions and Pyongyang’s March launch drew recriminations from the U.S., Japan and others.

The North Korean weapons activity coincides with a visit to Seoul by Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, where he is scheduled to meet his counterpart. Asked about the North’s weekend cruise-missile test, Wang downplayed the launch’s significance and suggested countries should work toward resuming dialogue with North Korea.

“Other countries conduct military activities as well, not just North Korea,” Mr. Wang said.

Last month, the U.N.’s atomic agency said Pyongyang appeared to have resumed operating its plutonium-producing reactor at its Yongbyon facility, calling it “deeply troubling.”

North Korea has been contending with a series of domestic problems, from a battered economy, the Covid-19 pandemic and potential food shortages. Last week, the North held a low-key military parade that didn’t show off any major weaponry. The event appeared to be more focused on boosting the morale of North Koreans rather than sending a message to the outside world, security analysts said.

But in recent months, the Kim regime has rebuked outreach from the US and South Korea to return to denuclearization talks. Pyongyang took offense to joint US-South Korea military drills held last month.

A senior North Korean official, in an Aug. 11 statement, said the US and South Korea had made a dangerous choice by not canceling the exercises and would face a “serious security crisis.” In June, Kim Jong Un, in his first remarks about US policy since President Biden took office, said the North should be ready for both dialogue and confrontation.

With China’s top diplomat in town, officials in Seoul should push Beijing to provide greater transparency about China’s role in the North Korean nuclear issue, said Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha University in Seoul.

“China’s economic aid, diplomatic backing and tolerance of sanctions evasion make it the top enabler of the Kim regime,” Prof. Easley said. “Yet Wang Yi acts as if North Korea’s missile tests and resumption of nuclear activity at Yongbyon are someone else’s problem.”

On Tuesday, US nuclear envoy Sung Kim held talks in Tokyo with his South Korean and Japanese counterparts, discussing humanitarian aid to North Korea. Washington is prepared to discuss aid regardless of progress on denuclearization, said Mr. Kim, who reiterated that the US has no hostile intent toward North Korea.

The US has repeatedly offered to meet North Korea without any preconditions, eager to resume a dialogue that has been stalled for roughly two years.

—Peter Landers contributed to this article.


Write to Timothy W Martin, Dasl Yoon at timothy.martin@wsj.com


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