SEOUL - AGENCIES
North Korea fires 2 ballistic missiles amid deadlocked nuclear talks

North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the sea on Wednesday (Sep 15), according to South Korea's military, as China's foreign minister visited Seoul and days after Pyongyang said that 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 COVID-19 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 (JCS) 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 South Korean military has raised its level of surveillance, and is maintaining a full readiness posture in close cooperation with the United States, the JCS added.

Japan's Coast Guard also reported that an object that could be a ballistic missile was fired from North Korea and landed outside its exclusive economic zone.

Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called the launch "outrageous", and strongly condemned the action as a threat to peace and security of the region.

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

Moon's office said that he was immediately briefed about the ballistic missile tests, North Korea's first since March this year and a further breach of United Nations sanctions.

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

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."

The launch came after North Korea said that it had successfully tested a new long-range cruise missile last 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.

Analysts say the missile could be the country's first such weapon with a nuclear capability.

The missiles fired at the weekend travelled 1,500km on two-hour flight paths - including figure-of-eight patterns - above North Korea and its territorial waters to hit their targets, according to the country's official Korean Central News Agency.

Pyongyang has been steadily developing its weapons programme amid a stand-off over talks aimed at dismantling its nuclear and ballistic missile programmes in return for United States sanctions relief.

North Korea is not banned from developing cruise missiles, which it has tested previously.

American, Japanese and South Korean envoys on the North met in Tokyo earlier this week, when Washington's representative Sung Kim reiterated: "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 US 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.

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