North Korea fires two ballistic missiles: South's military
North Korea fired two ballistic missiles into the sea on Wednesday, according to the South's military, as China's foreign minister visited Seoul -- Pyongyang's second launch in less than a week, AFP reports.
Analysts said the timing was an unmistakable signal to Beijing, the North's key diplomatic ally and main partner for trade and aid -- although at times their relationship has been deeply strained.
Pyongyang is under a self-imposed blockade after closing its borders early last year to protect itself against the coronavirus pandemic.
The nuclear-armed North fired "two unidentified ballistic missiles" from its central inland area into the sea off its east coast, Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff 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 launch came as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is in 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."
North Korea is under international sanctions for its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programmes, which it says it needs to defend itself against a US invasion.
Talks with the United States 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.
Kim did not visit China for more than six years after inheriting power from his father and predecessor Kim Jong Il, and tensions mounted in the allies' relationship.
But subsequently, he and Chinese President Xi Jinping met several times, and Beijing sees the North as very much part of its sphere of influence.
Yang Moo-jin, a professor at the University of North Korean Studies in Seoul, said Wednesday's launch "looks like North Korea's indirect message and even request to Beijing for the Korean peninsula to be addressed as a central agenda issue for China".
"At the same time, Pyongyang seems to be claiming and stressing that North Korea is taking the lead in the Korean peninsula issue," he added.