SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea fired two short-range ballistic missiles toward its eastern waters on Wednesday, South Korea's military said, a day before U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris is to visit the South.
South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the North Korean missiles lifted off 10 minutes apart on Wednesday afternoon from its capital region and flew toward the waters off its east coast.
It said South Korea has boosted its surveillance and is maintaining a military readiness in close coordination with the United States.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida instructed officials to take “utmost caution” in case of any emergencies, while gathering information and ensuring the safety of vessels and aircraft. Japan's coast guard issued a warning to vessels in the area, but there were no reports of damage.
The launches follow a missile test by North Korea earlier this week. Harris is to arrive in South Korea on Thursday for talks with President Yoon Suk Yeol and other officials. She also is to visit the tense border with North Korea, in what U.S. officials call an attempt to underscore the strength of the U.S.-South Korean alliance and the U.S. commitment to "stand beside” South Korea in the face of any North Korea threats.
U.S. and South Korean navy ships are also conducting drills off South Korea's east coast in a show of force against North Korea.
The four-day exercise, which began Monday, involves the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan. It is the first training exercise by the allies involving a U.S. aircraft carrier near the Korean Peninsula since 2017.
South Korea-U.S. joint military exercises often draw a furious response from North Korea, which views them as an invasion rehearsal. A short-range North Korean missile launched Sunday was seen as a response to the U.S.-South Korean training.
North Korea has dialed up its missile testing activities to a record pace in 2022, launching more than 30 ballistic weapons, including its first intercontinental ballistic missiles since 2017. North Korea's Sunan area where Wednesday's launches occurred was the site of various missile tests this year, including two ICBMs.
Earlier this month, North Korea adopted a new law authorizing the preemptive use of nuclear weapons in some situations, as it continues to escalate its nuclear doctrine. U.S. and South Korean officials have also said the North may soon conduct its first nuclear test in five years.
Earlier Wednesday, South Korea’s spy agency told lawmakers that a nuclear test could happen between mid-October and early November.
According to some lawmakers who attended the meeting, the National Intelligence Service said if the test occurs, it is likely to come after China, North Korea's last major ally, holds a key Communist Party congress on Oct. 16 but before the United States votes in midterm elections on Nov. 7.
North Korea's torrid run of weapons tests this year is seen as exploiting divides in the United Nations Security Council over Russia’s war against Ukraine and the U.S.-China rivalry. In May, China and Russia vetoed a U.S.-led bid to impose new sanctions on North Korea over its ballistic missile tests this year, which violate U.N. Security Council resolutions.
Associated Press writer Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo contributed to this report.