North Korea on Monday notified neighbouring Japan that it plans to launch a satellite in coming days, which may be an attempt to put its first military reconnaissance satellite into orbit.
Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada said he ordered Japan’s Self Defence Force to shoot down the satellite or debris, if any entered Japanese territory.
Japan’s coast guard said the notice it received from North Korean waterway authorities said the launch window was from May 31 to June 11, and that the launch may affect waters in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and east of the Philippines’ Luzon Island.
The coast guard issued a safety warning for ships in the area on those dates because of the possible risks from falling debris. Japan’s coast guard co-ordinates and distributes maritime safety information in East Asia, which is likely the reason it was the recipient of North Korea’s notice.
To launch a satellite into space, North Korea would have to use long-range missile technology banned by UN Security Council resolutions. Its past launches of Earth observation satellites were seen as disguised missile tests.
Japan’s Chief Cabinet Secretary Hirokazu Matsuno said the launch would violate UN resolutions and was a “threat to the peace and safety of Japan, the region and the international community.”
Japan was already on standby for falling missile debris from North Korean launches earlier this year and has deployed missile defence systems such as land-to-air PAC-3 and ship-to-air SM-3 interceptors in southwestern Japan and in the East China Sea.
Matsuno said it was possible the satellite would enter or pass above Japan’s southwestern islands including Okinawa, where the United States has major military bases and thousands of troops.
South Korea warned Monday that North Korea will face consequences if it goes ahead with its launch plan in violation of the UN Security Council resolutions that ban the North from conducting any launch using ballistic technology.
“Our government strongly warns North Korea against a provocation that threatens peace in the region and urges it to withdraw its illegal launch plan immediately,” a ministry statement said. It said South Korea will cooperate with the international community to resolutely cope with any North Korean provocation.
In a three-way telephone conversation later Monday, the chief nuclear envoys of South Korea, the United States and Japan agreed to cooperate to help promote a unified, resolute international response to a North Korean satellite launch. They strongly urged North Korea to refrain from what they termed “an illegal launch” that would threaten regional peace, according to South Korea’s Foreign Ministry. Japan issued a similar statement.
China, North Korea’s chief ally, renewed its call for a political settlement of tensions in response to the launch announcement.
“There is a reason why the situation on the Korean Peninsula has developed to how it is today,” Foreign Ministry spokesperson Mao Ning said at a daily briefing Monday. “We hope that all parties concerned will face up to the crux of the issue, strive for a political settlement, and address each other’s legitimate concerns through meaningful dialogue in a balanced manner.”
Earlier this month, North Korean state media reported leader Kim Jong Un had inspected a finished military spy satellite at his country’s aerospace center and approved the satellite’s launch plan. Monday’s launch notice did not specify the type of satellite.
Last week, rival South Korea launched its first commercial-grade satellite into space, which likely will provide it with technology and expertise to place its first military spy satellite into orbit later this year and build more powerful missiles. Experts say Kim would want his country to launch a spy satellite before South Korea does.
North Korea placed Earth observation satellites in orbit in 2012 and 2016. It does not notify neighbouring countries of its missile firings in advance, but has issued notices ahead of satellite launches in the past.
While North Korea has demonstrated an ability to deliver a satellite into space, there are questions about the satellite’s capability. Foreign experts say the earlier satellites never transmitted imagery back to North Korea, and analysts say the new device displayed in state media appeared too small and crudely designed to support high-resolution imagery.
Spy satellites are among an array of high-tech weapons systems Kim has publicly vowed to develop. Other weapons systems on his wish list include solid-propellant ICBMs, nuclear-powered submarines, hypersonic missiles and multi-warhead missiles.
The North’s satellite launch plan comes amid heightened tensions on the Korean Peninsula.
Since the start of 2022, North Korea has test-launched more than 100 missiles, some of them nuclear-capable weapons that place the U.S. mainland, South Korea and Japan within striking distance. North Korea argues its testing spree is meant to issue warning over expanded military drills between the U.S. and South Korea, but observers say North Korea aims to modernize its weapons program then win greater concessions from its rivals in future dealings.
Last week, the South Korean and U.S. militaries conducted large-scale live-fire drills near the border with North Korea as the first of five rounds of exercises marking 70 years since the establishment of their alliance. North Korea warned Monday that the U.S. and South Korea will face unspecified consequences for their “war scenario for aggression on” North Korea.
“We’d like to ask them if they can cope with the consequences to be entailed by their reckless and dangerous war gambles that are being staged under the eyes of the armed forces of (North Korea),” the North’s official Korean Central News Agency said.
Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida said Saturday that he was ready to meet Kim Jong Un “any time without preconditions” and that he was making efforts to organize a summit as soon as possible.
He was speaking at a conference dealing with the abductions of Japanese citizens to North Korea decades ago. The issue was only partially resolved and North Korea never provided a full account for those still believed held.
North Korea on Monday urged Japan to show its sincerity about resuming talks, saying it’s necessary to “cool-headedly recall” why past talks had failed to improve ties.