SEOUL: North Korea fired two ballistic missiles Thursday, Seoul's military said, as the UN Security Council met to discuss Pyongyang's earlier, highly provocative launch of a missile over Japan.
The launch is Pyongyang's sixth in less than two weeks, and comes two days after it fired an intermediate-range ballistic missile over Japan, prompting Tokyo to issue a rare evacuation warning.
South Korea's military said it had detected two short-range ballistic missiles launched from the Samsok area in Pyongyang towards the East Sea, also known as the Sea of Japan.
"Our military has reinforced monitoring and surveillance and is maintaining utmost readiness in coordination with the United States," Seoul's Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement.
Japan's coastguard also confirmed the launch of two potential ballistic missiles, with Prime Minister Fumio Kishida telling reporters that the recent testing spate was "unacceptable".
"Even in this short period since the end of September, this is the sixth time. This is absolutely unacceptable," he said.
Pyongyang's Tuesday test of what officials and analysts said was a Hwasong-12 that travelled likely the longest horizontal distance of any North Korean test before, prompted the United States to call for the emergency Security Council meeting.
But North Korea's longtime ally and economic benefactor Beijing blamed Washington for provoking the spate of launches by Kim Jong Un's regime.
Deputy Chinese ambassador to the UN Geng Shuang said North Korea's recent launches were "closely related" to military exercises in the region conducted by the United States and its allies.
Geng accused the US of "poisoning the regional security environment," he told the council.
Seoul, Tokyo and Washington have ramped up joint military drills in recent weeks, including large-scale naval manoeuvers and anti-submarine exercises.
America said Wednesday it would redeploy the nuclear-powered USS Ronald Reagan to the Korean Peninsula for a second visit in less than a month.
North Korea's foreign ministry issued a statement Thursday slamming the UN Security Council meeting and accusing the US of "posing a serious threat to the stability of the situation on the Korean peninsula" with the redeployment of the aircraft carrier.
- No talks -
The launches are part of a record year of weapons tests by isolated North Korea, which leader Kim Jong Un has declared an "irreversible" nuclear power, effectively ending the possibility of denuclearisation talks.
The US request for the meeting was backed by Britain, France, Albania, Norway and Ireland.
"This is a clear effort by China and Russia to reward DPRK for their bad actions," said Linda Thomas-Greenfield, the US ambassador to the UN.
"We need to turn quickly to strengthening the 1718 sanctions regime, not considering sanctions relief," she added.
China and Russia vetoed a US Security Council resolution in May imposing new penalties on North Korea, after the body had unanimously adopted heavy sanctions in 2017.
The council has been divided on responding to Pyongyang's nuclear ambitions for months, with Russia and China on the sympathetic side and the rest of the council pushing for punishment.
Analysts say that Pyongyang has seized the opportunity of stalemate at the UN to conduct ever more provocative weapons tests.
Officials in Seoul and Washington have been warning for months that Pyongyang will conduct another nuclear test, likely after the Chinese Party Congress on October 16.
"At this point, for Kim to turn back and halt provocations would seem counterproductive to his interests, not to mention the amount of resources squandered to conduct these weapons tests," Soo Kim, analyst at the RAND Corporation, told AFP.
"We are indeed in a cycle of weapons provocations. What's left, essentially, is an ICBM test and potentially the long-awaited seventh nuclear test."