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South Korea has said it carried out its first underwater-launched ballistic missile test just hours after the North fired two ballistic missiles into the sea.
North Korea's state media described a test earlier this month as a "strategic weapon of great significance"
North Korea on Wednesday fired two ballistic missiles into the sea, according to the South Korean military.
Hours later, South Korea said President Moon Jae-in observed Seoul's first underwater-launched missile test on Wednesday afternoon.
The South's missile, fired from a 3,000-ton-class submarine, flew a previously set distance before hitting a designated target, the presidential Blue House said.
Possessing a submarine-launched ballistic missile was "expected to play a major role in self-reliant national defense and the establishment of peace on the Korean Peninsula going forward," the Blue House said.
The tests came as China's foreign minister visited Seoul for talks about Pyongyang's recent testing of new long-range cruise missiles.
The two "unidentified ballistic missiles" were launched from a site in central North Korea, toward the waters of the Korean Peninsula's east coast on Wednesday afternoon, South Korea'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.
Japan's coast guard said the missiles landed outside Japanese economic waters.
If Wednesday's test were confirmed as a ballistic missile, it would be Pyongyang's first since March this year and a further violation of UN sanctions.
Japanese Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga called Pyongyang's missile launch "outrageous" and condemned it as a threat to peace and security in the region.
Both Suga and Moon will convene sessions of their national security councils to discuss the launches, their offices said.
China's Foreign Ministry spokesman Zhao Lijian told a daily briefing that Beijing hoped "relevant parties" would "exercise restraint."
The US Indo-Pacific Command said the move "highlights the destabilizing impact of [North Korea's] illicit weapons program," though it said it didn't pose an immediate threat to the US.
The launch came as Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi held talks with his South Korean counterpart over the North's recent missile test and stalled denuclearization negotiations between Pyongyang and Washington.
Wang also met with Moon.
Before the news of the missile launch emerged, Wang expressed hope that all countries would maintain "peace and stability on the Korean Peninsula."
"For example, not only the North, but also other countries are engaging in military activities," he was quoted as saying by Yonhap news agency. "Having said this, we all have to work together toward the resumption of dialogue."
Pyongyang's launch comes days after the North successfully tested new long-range cruise missiles.
North Korea is not banned from developing cruise missiles, which it has tested in the past.
According to state-run KCNA, the missiles fired at the weekend flew about 1,500 km (932 miles) — a distance capable of reaching all of Japan and US military installations in the region.
The North ended a yearlong pause of testing ballistic missiles in March this year.
The latest tests are seen as an attempt to pressure the US, under President Joe Biden, amid stalled nuclear talks.
Negotiations have been put on ice since the collapse of the 2019 Hanoi summit between the North's leader Kim Jong-un and then US President Donald Trump.
fb, adi/sms (AFP, AP, Reuters)