North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles off its east coast Sunday toward the Sea of Japan, just three days after it launched what appeared to be short-range projectiles, South Korea's Joint Chiefs of Staff said.
The missiles, apparently versions of the Scud missile, were fired shortly before 5 a.m. from Wonsan in Gangwon Province and are believed to have flown about 500 kilometers, the South Korean military said. The Japanese Defense Ministry also said it estimated the missiles flew a similar distance.
The development came ahead of a planned meeting between Japan and North Korea in Beijing on Tuesday over Pyongyang's abductions of Japanese nationals.
Japan's Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said the government will go ahead with the meeting as planned. Speaking at a local lawmakers meeting in the city of Akita, northeastern Japan, Suga said Tokyo "should proceed as scheduled in our judgment," adding the talks will also provide a good opportunity to directly lodge a protest against the missile launch.
Speaking to reporters at Tokyo's Haneda airport before leaving for Vietnam, Japanese Foreign Minister Fumio Kishida also said there is "no change to the schedule" of the talks.
A North Korean Foreign Ministry official told Kyodo News the missile launch was part of routine military exercises and would have "no influence" on the governmental talks in the Chinese capital.
The latest missile launch, likely intended to demonstrate the North's military capabilities to South Korea, came ahead of a visit by Chinese President Xi Jinping to Seoul on Thursday.
Following the missile launch, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called on relevant government ministries and agencies to gather further information in cooperation with the United States and South Korea.
Abe also called for the safety of ships and aircraft to be ensured and the prompt release of information to the public about the development.
The Japanese government lodged a protest with North Korea through diplomatic channels in Beijing. Japan and North Korea do not have diplomatic relations.
Abe will convene a meeting of the National Security Council on Monday and discuss how to address the situation with Suga, Defense Minister Itsunori Onodera and others.
Last Thursday, North Korea fired what appeared to be three short-range projectiles into waters off its east coast and they flew about 190 km.
Onodera said the missile launch constitutes a violation of U.N. Security Council resolutions that ban North Korea from any launch using ballistic missile technology.
"As opportunities for various negotiations with North Korea are being arranged, the latest launch does not benefit North Korea," Onodera told reporters.
"This is a very serious matter," he said.
There were no reports of damage to vessels sailing in the Sea of Japan or aircraft flying in the area, Japan's Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport and Tourism said.
In the governmental meeting in Beijing on Tuesday, North Korea will likely inform Japan about a unit set up to conduct a new round of investigations into Japanese abducted by Pyongyang and those who are missing.
After assessing whether the unit carries the clout to probe all organizations in North Korea, Tokyo is expected to lift part of the sanctions it has unilaterally imposed on Pyongyang.
In late March, North Korea launched two Rodong medium-range ballistic missiles toward the Sea of Japan. They have a range of 1,300 km and are capable of reaching almost all of Japan.