TOKYO, Nov 21 — North Korea has notified Japan it plans to launch a rocket carrying a space satellite between November 22 and December 1 in the direction of the Yellow Sea and East China Sea, Japan’s Coast Guard said today.
If carried out, it would likely mark a third attempt by the nuclear-armed state this year to put a spy satellite into orbit.
The notice prompted immediate condemnation from Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida, who said his country’s defence systems, including the Aegis destroyers and PAC-3 air defence missiles, stood ready in case any “unexpected situation” arose.
“Even if the purpose is to launch a satellite, using ballistic missile technology is a violation of a series of United Nations Security Council resolutions,” Kishida told reporters.
“It is also a matter that greatly affects national security.”
Japan will work with the United States, South Korea and others to “strongly urge” North Korea not to go ahead with the launch, Kishida said.
North Korea had attempted to launch what it called spy satellites twice earlier this year but failed, and South Korean officials have said in recent days that it appeared set to try again soon.
The secretive country has notified Japan, as the coordinating authority for the International Maritime Organisation for those waters, of its plans all three times.
The launch would be the first since North Korean leader Kim Jong-un made a rare trip abroad in September and toured Russia’s most modern space launch centre, where President Vladimir Putin promised to help Pyongyang build satellites.
North Korea’s notice also follows its denouncement on Monday of the potential US sale of hundreds of missiles to Japan and South Korea, calling it a dangerous act that raises tension in the region and brings a new arms race.
In that statement, carried by the KCNA news agency, the North’s defence ministry said Pyongyang would step up measures to establish deterrence and respond to instability in the region, which it said was caused by the US and its allies.
South Korea’s defence ministry did not immediately respond to calls seeking comment before business hours. North Korea has not made a formal announcement of the plan on official media.
Pyongyang has been seeking to place a military spy satellite into orbit, saying it plans a fleet of satellites to monitor moves by US and South Korean troops.
North Korea has made had multiple attempts to launch what it called “observation” satellites, of which two appeared to have successfully reached orbit including one in 2016, but South Korean officials questioned whether it is transmitting any signal.
The North considers its space and military rocket programmes a sovereign right, and analysts say spy satellites are crucial to improving the effectiveness of its weapons.
The launch, if carried out, would likely come just before South Korea’s own plan to launch its first reconnaissance satellite with aid from the United States on November 30 by a SpaceX Falcon-9 rocket from the US military’s Vandenberg base. — Reuters