SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea said Monday that it planned to indict and try two Americans it has held on charges of committing “hostile acts” against the country, just a day after it fired two ballistic missiles off its east coast, flouting a United Nations ban on the country’s testing of such missiles.
The North’s official Korean Central News Agency said of the Americans, Matthew Miller, 24, and Jeffrey Edward Fowle, 56, “Their hostile acts were confirmed by evidence and their own testimonies.”
Miller was detained for his “absurd” behavior after he tore up his tourist visa and demanded asylum upon arriving in Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, on April 10, according to state news media there. The arrest of Fowle, of Miamisburg, Ohio, was confirmed in early June when North Korea accused him of perpetrating “activities that violated the laws of our republic, which did not fit his stated purpose of visiting our republic as a tourist.”
The ballistics test came four days before President Xi Jinping of China was scheduled to visit Seoul, South Korea, in his first trip to the Korean Peninsula as Beijing’s leader.
The two Scud-type missiles flew 500 kilometers, or about 310 miles, and landed in waters between North Korea and Japan, officials at the Office of the Joint Chiefs of Staff of the South Korean military said Sunday. North Korea regularly tests short-range rockets and missiles. It fired three short-range projectiles off its coast on Thursday. Its state news media later said that its leader, Kim Jong Un, supervised what it called the test firings of a new type of precision-guided missile.
The North’s neighboring countries found its firings on Sunday more provocative because a series of U.N. Security Council resolutions banned the country from testing any ballistic missile technology for fear it was developing an intercontinental ballistic missile with a nuclear warhead.
Although North Korea would have to test its missiles to improve its technology, outside analysts said that the country often timed such test firings to make a political impact in the region, especially when the leaders or negotiators of neighboring governments gathered to discuss their policies on the North. North Korea launched two midrange Rodong ballistic missiles in March, when President Barack Obama met with President Park Geun-hye of South Korea and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan on the sidelines of a nuclear security summit meeting in The Hague and condemned its nuclear ambitions.
Xi was scheduled to arrive in Seoul on Thursday for a two-day trip that included a meeting with Park. While announcing Xi’s trip to Seoul, Qin Gang, a spokesman for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, maintained that China had a “fair and objective position” on the Korean Peninsula.
But the South Korean news media played up the fact that Xi would be the first Chinese president to visit Seoul before visiting Pyongyang, the capital of North Korea, after assuming the top leadership in Beijing. Some interpreted it as a possible sign that Beijing might be rearranging its priorities between South and North Korea, China’s traditional ally.
Park has been eager to reach out to Beijing, meeting Xi four times and urging China to use its economic leverage to curb North Korea’s nuclear ambitions.
In contrast, the North Korean leader, Kim, has never met Xi or visited Beijing since he took over after the death of his father, Kim Jong Il, in late 2011.
Analysts here said that had as much to do with Kim’s preoccupation with consolidating his domestic control as with Beijing’s growing frustration with North Korea, which ignored China’s appeals and conducted its third nuclear test in February 2012.
There have been indications that North Korea is becoming increasingly concerned that its economic dependence on trade with China has deepened while it struggles to overcome U.N. sanctions.
On Saturday, the North’s main party newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, carried a full front-page editorial emphasizing the country’s ideology of “juche” - or self-reliance - and warning against “the pressure from big countries.”
North Korea has recently appeared to bolster its ties with Moscow as a possible counterbalance against China. On Saturday, the North and Russia staged a rare joint march of their military music bands through central Pyongyang, the Korean Central News Agency reported.
Russia increased oil exports to North Korea last year and renovated its rail link with the country; the lack of official oil exports to North Korea in China’s recent trade data prompted speculation that Beijing might be increasing economic pressure on the North.