BEIJING – As China's president prepared to fly to South Korea, North Korea offered Northeast Asia yet another reminder Wednesday of why it continues to dominate all discussions of security in the region.
The North conducted its third missile test in the past week by firing two short-range rockets into the Sea of Japan off its east coast, according to South Korean military quoted by Yonhap, a South Korean news agency.
The rockets, presumed to be 300-millimeter multiple-rocket launcher KN-09 shells, were fired from a site near its eastern city of Wonsan at around 6:50 a.m. and 8 a.m. local time, in a northeasterly direction, said Yonhap.
On Sunday, South Korea said North Korea had fired two short-range ballistic missiles, thereby violating a United Nations ban. The U.N. ban does not include short-range rocket launchers such as those used in Wednesday's launch.
While North Korea regularly carries out test-firing, and South Korea conducts frequent military drills, the recent flurry of rockets appears timed to influence the imminent meeting between leaders of South Korea, with which North Korea remains in a state of war, and China, the North's only significant ally.
President Xi Jinping arrives in Seoul, the South Korean capital, Thursday, for talks with President Park Geun-hye that will include a discussion of North Korea's nuclear and missile program, and its controversial plans to hold a fourth nuclear test.
Although Beijing provides crucial fuel and food supplies to Pyongyang, as well as political backing, China also enjoys growing ties – and huge trade – with South Korea.
Xi has already met Park several times, but not even once with the North's young dictator Kim Jong Un.
With its missile tests, and the indictment Monday of two U.S. tourists held in North Korea, the isolated regime shows its desperation to be noticed, said Tong Kim, an international relations expert at Korea University in Seoul.
The North, "as usual, is using multiple ways to seek attention – 'you can't ignore us'," said Kim.
Pyongyang is also sending a warning message to China, Kim said. "'Don't forget us, don't sell us out'".