Japan on standby for N Korea ‘satellite’ launch in next two weeks

Pyongyang has said previously it completed work on its first spy satellite, but Tokyo says launch could be ballistic missile.

Japanese troops walking past a Patriot Advanced Capability-3 (PAC-3) missile unit
Japan’s Self Defence Force has been ordered to shoot down the satellite or debris, if any enters Japanese territory [File: Kim Kyung-Hoon/Reuters]

North Korea on Monday has notified neighbouring Japan that it plans to launch a satellite in coming days, which may be an attempt to put Pyongyang’s first military spy satellite into orbit.

Japan’s coast guard said the notice indicated the launch window was from May 31 and June 11 and that it could affect waters in the Yellow Sea, East China Sea and east of the Philippines’ Luzon Island.

KCNA, the North Korean state media agency, later reported that Ri Pyong Chol, vice-chairman of the ruling party’s central military commission, confirmed a launch is set for June.

North Korea has also undertaken a series of missile and weapons tests in recent months, including a new, solid-fuel intercontinental ballistic missile (ICBM).

In a statement to KCNA, the North Korean government said the satellite was necessary to react “in real time” to the “dangerous military acts of the United States and its vassal forces” in the region.

The Japanese prime minister’s office, meanwhile, urged North Korea to refrain from the launch and said it would work closely with allies.

“We strongly urge North Korea to refrain from launching,” the prime minister’s office said on Twitter, adding it would cooperate “with relevant countries, such as the US and South Korea”.

To launch a satellite into space, North Korea would have to use long-range missile technology banned under United Nations’ Security Council resolutions. Its past launches of Earth observation satellites have been 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.”

Kim Jong Un walks with officials at the Sohae Satellite launch site. He is wearing a black leather jacket, baggy black trousers and sunglasses. A launch structure is behind him
North Korean leader Kim Jong Un pictured at the Sohae Satellite launching ground. Pyongyang announced last month it had completed work on its first military spy satellite [File: KCNA via Reuters]

Defence Minister Yasukazu Hamada ordered Japan’s Self Defence Force to shoot down the satellite or debris, if any entered Japanese territory.

The government said it would do all it could to collect and analyse information from the launch.

“Pyongyang presumably notified Tokyo of the impending launch because the rocket may fly over Japanese territory, and the Kim regime wants to claim it is conducting a legitimate space program,” Leif-Eric Easley, a professor at Ewha Woman’s University in Seoul, told Al Jazeera in emailed comments. “But the notification does not appear to meet international standards, and any North Korean satellite launch is illegal under UN Security Council resolutions that ban North Korean ballistic missile tests.”

North Korea announced it had completed work on its first spy satellite in April. Earlier this month, North Korean leader Kim Jong Un inspected a military satellite facility and gave the go-ahead for a “future action plan”. Such a launch would use long-range missile technology banned under United Nations Security Council resolutions.

Analysts say the spy satellite is part of nuclear-armed North Korea’s efforts to advance surveillance technology, including drones, and improve its ability to strike targets in the event of a conflict.

North Korean media previously criticised plans by South Korea, the United States and Japan to share real-time data on Pyongyang’s missile launches, describing the three as discussing “sinister measures” for tightening military cooperation.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies