North Korea test-fired two short-range ballistic missiles into international waters between South Korea and Japan on Wednesday, and hours later, South Korea conducted its first underwater-fired ballistic missile from a 3,000-ton-class submarine. Pyongyang said Monday that it had tested two newly developed cruise missiles over the weekend, breaking a months-long hiatus from missile launches.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga said North Korea's missile tests "threaten the peace and safety of Japan and the region and are absolutely outrageous." U.S. Indo-Pacific Command said the launches destabilized the region but did not pose an immediate threat to "U.S. personal or territory, or to our allies." Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi, in Seoul for talks aimed at reviving stalled nuclear talks with North Korea, downplayed the missile test, saying "other countries conduct military activities as well, not just North Korea."
"Experts say the North Korean launches showed it's pressing ahead with its arms build-up plans while trying to apply pressure on the United States to resume stalled nuclear talks," though "it's unusual for North Korea to make provocative launches when China, its last major ally and biggest aid provider, is engaged in a major diplomatic event," The Associated Press reports. It's also "not usual for South Korea to publicly disclose high-profile weapons tests," and some experts suggested South Korean President Moon Jae-in "may be responding to criticism that it's too soft on the North."
North Korea last fired a ballistic missile on March 25, in what was widely viewed as a test of the new Biden administration. The International Atomic Energy Agency says North Korea appears to have started its plutonium-producing nuclear reactor.