REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

North Korea on Saturday fired two short-range ballistic missiles into the Sea of Japan, South Korea's military said, with the apparent weapons test — its fifth in 16 days — flying in the face of U.S. President Donald Trump's jubilant exhortations after receiving another "beautiful letter" from Pyongyang hours earlier.

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DoD/Lisa Ferdinando

The U.S. is hoping to deploy new ground-based intermediate-range missiles to Asia "sooner rather than later," U.S. defense chief Mark Esper said of a move that could have huge ramifications for regional security.

Esper's remarks were likely to raise already-soaring tensions with Beijing and add to fears of a new arms race involving the U.S., China and Russia.

"Yes I would like to," Esper said late Saturday when asked if the United States was considering deploying new medium-range conventional weapons in Asia now that Washington is no longer bound by the Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF) Treaty, which the U.S. formally withdrew from a day earlier.

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In this March 12, 2016, file photo, Marines of the U.S., left, and South Korea, wearing blue headbands on their helmets, take positions after landing on a beach during the joint military combined amphibious exercise, called Ssangyong, part of the Key Resolve and Foal Eagle military exercises, in Pohang, South Korea. (Associated Press/Yonhap/Kim Jun-bum)

Joint U.S.-South Korean military exercises scheduled for next month are going ahead, a top Seoul official said Saturday, despite a threat by North Korea to boycott working-level talks with Washington and possibly restart nuclear and longer-range missile tests.

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In the latest show of military muscle in the South China Sea, the U.S. has apparently sailed its USS Wasp amphibious assault ship near a strategic reef claimed by Beijing and Manila that lies just 230 km (140 miles) from the Philippine coast.

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A B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, flies the skies at the 2019 Australian International Aerospace & Defence Exposition and Airshow (AVALON 2019) in Geelong, Victoria, Australia, March 1, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Sergio A. Gamboa)

B-52 bombers from Guam have trained with Air Self-Defense Force and Okinawa-based U.S. fighter jets in the Western Pacific, just days after China sent a total of six bombers and other aircraft through a key entryway into the Pacific for their own military exercises.

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A B-52 Stratofortress assigned to the 23rd Expeditionary Bomb Squadron, Andersen Air Force Base, Guam, flies the skies at the 2019 Australian International Aerospace & Defence Exposition and Airshow (AVALON 2019) in Geelong, Victoria, Australia, March 1, 2019. (U.S. Air Force/Staff Sgt. Sergio A. Gamboa)

The U.S. has sent B-52 bombers near disputed islands in the South China Sea, the U.S. Pacific Air Forces said Thursday, the second such mission over the contested waterway in 10 days.

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