Japan, South Korea on high alert over North Korean satellite
Japan and South Korea are on high alert over an announcement from North Korea that they would be launching a satellite later this month.
Japan put its military on alert on Wednesday to shoot down any North Korean rocket that threatens it, while South Korea warned the North it would pay a “severe price” if it goes ahead with a satellite launch that South Korea considers a missile test.
North Korea notified UN agencies on Tuesday of its plan to launch what it called an “earth observation satellite” sometime between 8 and 25 February.
North Korea has said it has a sovereign right to pursue a space programme by launching rockets, although the United States and other governments suspect that such launches are in reality tests of its missiles.
“We have defences ready to deal with all threats, but in view of the announcement I have put the Self Defence Force’s Aegis destroyers and our PAC-3 units on alert and issued an order to shoot down any ballistic missile threat,” Japan’s defence minister, Gen Nakatani, told media briefing.
Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said he would work with the United States and others to “strongly demand” that North Korea refrain from what he described as a planned missile launch.
Tension rose in East Asia last month after North Korea’s fourth nuclear test, this time of what it said was a hydrogen bomb.
A rocket launch coming so soon after the nuclear test would raise concern that North Korea plans to fit nuclear warheads on its missiles, giving it the capability to launch a strike against South Korea, Japan and possibly targets as far away as the US West Coast.
North Korea last launched a long-range rocket in December 2012, sending an object it described as a communications satellite into orbit.
South Korea said the North should immediately call off the launch, which is a violation of UN Security Council resolutions, the South’s presidential Blue House said in a statement.
“North Korea’s notice of the plan to launch a long-range missile, coming at a time when there is a discussion for Security Council sanctions on its fourth nuclear test, is a direct challenge to the international community,” the Blue House said.
“We strongly warn that the North will pay a severe price … if it goes ahead with the long-range missile launch plan,” it said.
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